Oklahoma football: Sooners changed but perception remains same
LOS ANGELES — It takes more than a season for a reputation to fade away. No. 2 Oklahoma knows after three consecutive Big 12 Conference titles and a second appearance in the College Football Playoff, it’s still thought of as a team that runs a gimmick offense and lives and dies on that unit’s success.
There are statistics that back that up. After all, Oklahoma is the lone playoff participant that lacks a top-10 defense.
But there’s a misnomer when it comes to the Sooners. They throw it a decent amount, but they’ve broken out of the mold that existed at beginning of the decade. This is as talented an offense as Oklahoma — one of college football’s most storied programs — has ever put on the field.
“It is what it is,” tight end Mark Andrews said Friday. “But you can’t really squash the narrative overall.”
The Sooners (12-1) possessed college football’s most prolific offense during the regular season. They averaged 583.3 yards per game this season. The 8.44 yards per play set an NCAA record.
But the tempo had little to do with it. The Sooners enter the College Football Playoff on Monday having run 898 offensive plays this season. That’s 76 less than Ohio State and 109 less than Oklahoma State.
The Sooners didn’t get to where they are by tiring out defenses. They beat them up.
Oklahoma’s patience paid off
Lincoln Riley is one of the sport’s brightest young minds. However, the Sooners’ talent level has more to do with this season’s success than play calls or the tempo or the amount of time between snaps.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield, left tackle Orlando Brown and Andrews were unanimous All-America selections this season. It’s rare to have three players from the same team on those teams much less three on the same unit. Oklahoma became the first team in college football to achieve that feat.
The Sooners have NFL talent on the offensive line and at running back. They no longer fit the mold of a pass-happy spread offense. They won a lot of games this season and last with long, time-chomping drives that were elements of football in its most brutal form.
“When you’re not the most physical, you know right away you don’t even need to watch film, but that’s one of those things, too, where we’ve preached that all year,” fullback Dimitri Flowers said. “We preach that year in, day in, day out, camp, first game, that we need to be the most physical team to win.”
Playoff wins change judgments
But the perception isn’t going anywhere. The perception of this Rose Bowl is it’s SEC brawn vs. Big 12 finesse.
“The SEC is just a very physical league,” Georgia All-America linebacker Roquan Smith said Friday. “You’re bruised up each and every week and just trying to come out and just trying to get out of a week, and the standards will be pretty good from my understanding playing in the SEC.
“It’s an awesome conference, and the Big 12 is an awesome conference, as well, but I’m looking forward to the matchup. It’ll be a little different, something we haven’t seen all year, and I’m sure it’s something they haven’t seen, as well.”
The SEC won eight of the past 11 national championships. Georgia won the conference this season — its first SEC title since 2005.
Perhaps Smith is right. The Sooners can score a lot of points and there have been games this season in which they needed every one of them to get out with a victory. That offense has helped spur them to their third consecutive Big 12 championship and seventh since 2006.
But the Rose Bowl won’t be a matter of stylistic opposites.
“We’re just as physical as anybody else,” running back Rodney Anderson said.
There was a time when the Sooners were delicate. They’ve changed in the past two years. The Rose Bowl is their chance to illuminate what they’ve become.