Quick start imperative for Sooners against Air Force
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) – Here’s a formula for victory for No. 7 Oklahoma: Receive the opening kickoff, go down and score, then never look back.
It’s worked for the Sooners (2-0) in both games this season, and it could be important this Saturday against Air Force and its clock-chewing ground game. The Falcons (2-0), who lead the nation with 423 yards rushing per game, had two drives that lasted more than 7 1/2 minutes in a 35-14 win last week against BYU.
That’s a full quarter of clock gone in two possessions.
“They’re playing a style of game where they win and when they don’t win, for some reason it’s close,” Sooners offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said Tuesday. “You know it from all the Oklahoma years (in the wishbone), if you ever got on the wrong side and behind, it was hard to play a little bit of catch-up.”
That hasn’t been an issue so far for Oklahoma, which hasn’t trailed in victories against Utah State and Florida State. The Sooners scored on their first drive in both games and built on the fast starts to lead by at least 20 in the second quarter. Each of the first four drives against the Seminoles resulted in touchdowns.
“We just try to come out with as much energy as we can and start strong and finish strong,” fullback Trey Millard said. “A big part of it is just getting that first drive and then working from there.”
The Sooners are 26-2 in their last 28 games they’ve scored a touchdown on their opening possession. Over that span, they’re 25-13 when they don’t.
“That’s just coming out with a little bit of fire,” receiver Kenny Stills said. “We always talk about if we have the ball first and score first, that’s a good sign for us and we can continue to roll on that. You never want to go out there and have a quick three-and-out.”
Wilson doesn’t script plays going into a game, but he’ll give his players an idea of what they’re likely to run. Against Florida State, he was able to get the offense clicking and use the quick tempo that was a major weapon for the Sooners when 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford was at quarterback.
His successor, Landry Jones, said that a series of short swing passes and screens helped to build his confidence early but also capitalized on tendencies that coaches noticed while scouting Florida State. The Seminoles tended to leave receivers uncovered at the line, and Oklahoma took advantage by getting the ball out quickly and picking up yards after the catch.
By halftime, they were up 34-7 and Jones had 321 of his 380 yards passing.
“Whenever you jump out on a team, it helps your defense breathe a little bit and they can play a little bit more aggressive,” Jones said.
Just because Air Force controlled the ball for nearly 37 minutes last week, Wilson said he doesn’t plan to go away from the fast style as long as it’s working.
“To me, you’ve got to find ways to score, finish drives and get points on this team whether you’re doing that in fast or slow fashion,” Wilson said.
Falling behind could be a recipe for disaster. The Falcons have outscored their first two opponents 55-0 in the second half, allowing a total of 132 yards after halftime.
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said the success is a result of his young players settling into a game over time and of his staff making the right adjustments.
“They’re disciplined in how they play,” Sooners coach Bob Stoops said. “They play hard, they’ve got a lot of quickness to them and you can tell they’re very structured and understand what their assignments are.”