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December 30, 2013

Bedenbaugh brings new direction to OU run game

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NEW ORLEANS -- When Oklahoma's Bob Stoops and the Sooners take on the titan of college football, mighty Alabama, in the All State Sugar Bowl in three days time, their weapon of choice will look starkly different from the one it used to earn a Big 12 title and a Cotton Bowl invitation one year ago.

No, they're not going to look to sling the ball from hash mark to hash mark, sideline to sideline -- not if they want to keep to the formula that won the Sooners 10 games this season with two different starting quarterbacks.

For the last seven years, the Sooners have only been as good as the man starting at quarterback. Now they turn toward its rushing attack, its schematic attack to exploit a big, fast and physical defense. That also might mean exploring deeper into a zone-read offense than any of OU's coaches have in the past.

SCOOPHD: OU RUN GAME OPERATING AT HIGHEST LEVEL UNDER STOOPS


"I think what we're doing schematically is a little bit different than any of us in the offensive staff room have really been in the last four or five, six, seven years," said co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel.

Last year Oklahoma averaged over 300 yards passing and over 150 yards rushing. But much of the Sooners' rushing yardage was predicated on former Sooner Landry Jones' ability to make defenses respect OU's ability to gash them through the air.

After January 2013, Stoops knew Jones was gone, and the three quarterbacks vying to replace him -- to say nothing of the quarterbacks OU was recruiting -- didn't resemble Jones.

Mostly because of personnel and partly because the way the game is changing, Stoops decided to make a philosophical move toward a more run-oriented offense.

The move has resulted in Oklahoma averaging better than 235 yards per game and 5.3 yards per carry. The Sooners haven't averaged better than five yards per carry for an entire season in the Stoops Era. The Sooners have run 85 rushing plays that have resulted in 10 yards or more.

For those gaudy rushing numbers to come to fruition, Stoops needed to find new offensive line coach to help him find his way back to a Bowl Championship Series game. His name is Bill Bedenbaugh.

***

Bedenbaugh was 23 years old when began his career as the assistant line coach at Oklahoma Panhandle State University in Goodwell, Okla. It was his first job after a career at Iowa Wesleyan where he started four straight years.

After one year at OPSU, Bedenbaugh rejoined his first college offensive coordinator, Mike Leach, at Valdosta State in Georgia where he again only lasted the year. After a two-year stint at Central Michigan, he moved on to Ferris State in Big Rapids, Mich. In Big Rapids, he found his stride.

As the offensive line coach and run-game coordinator at Ferris State in 1999, he was named Division II Coordinator of the Year after the Bulldogs averaged 534 yards of total offense per game. The Bulldogs finished the season 7-3 and scored an average of 47.3 points per game.

Against Michigan Tech, Bedenbaugh's men rushed the ball 47 times for 384 yards with five touchdowns. The Ferris State offense attempted only 11 passes that day.

It was the type of game showcasing the thinking Bedenbaugh began to develop. A style he would bring to OU. A way he'd like his offenses to play football.

"He's done a great job instilling in us that he'd rather have a game where we don't throw the ball at all, where we dominate the line of scrimmage and run the ball every play," said senior center Gabe Ikard. "That's something that's been a little different than in the past."

The following year Leach took the head-coaching job at Texas Tech and offered Bedenbaugh a grad assistantship and the chance to coach a Big 12 offensive line.

Bedenbaugh stayed in Lubbock, Texas, coaching the offensive line and running backs for seven years. He had arguably his best Big 12 season as a coach in 2006 when running back Shannon Woods averaged 6.1 yards per carry, and, in Leach's pass-happy offense, allowed only 19 sacks all year.

Then, when things went sideways for Leach, Bedenbaugh was snatched up by the University of Arizona's head coach in 2007. His name was Mike Stoops. Mike Stoops gave Bedenbaugh the offensive line and the familiar role of running game coordinator.

In 2008, Bedenbaugh's blockers and backs helped the Wildcats average over 400 yards of total offense per game. The Wildcat ground game averaged 158 yards per game and scored 33 touchdowns in the Pac-12.

After Mike Stoops was released during the 2010 season, Bedenbaugh found a home in Morgantown, West Virginia, as Dana Holgorsen's offensive line coach for the Mountaineers. In 2012, he coached in his first BCS bowl game, the Orange Bowl.

By then, it was apparent Bedenbaugh was just as good a recruiter as coach, and "talented recruiter" was at the top of the job description for Stoops following the firing of three assistants.

When Stoops made the hire official on Feb. 15 this year, Bedenbaugh knew he had a program and school he could sell the nation's top high school linemen on, and Stoops knew he had an offensive line coach that would sell the program.

"Most of the kids that you're recruiting want to play in the NFL," said Bedenbaugh at his first official press conference as a Sooner. "I've coached a lot of kids that are playing in the NFL. They've produced a lot of O-linemen here that are playing in the NFL.

"The education, winning championships, being around a great person like Coach (Bob) Stoops as your mentor. Hell, we've got as much to sell as anybody in the country."

Bedenbaugh illustrated how tough it was for him to recruit players even at a growing power like West Virginia. He'd recruited junior college transfer and OU guard Dionte Savage while in Morgantown.

When he knew he had the job in Norman, one of his first phone calls was to Savage. Bedenbaugh said he called Savage about half a hundred times before becoming the offensive line coach at Oklahoma and could never get Savage to answer his calls.

"I told him who it was, and he started laughing," Bedenbaugh said.

Since arriving in Norman, since getting Savage to return his phone calls, Bedenbaugh has put his stamp on the Sooner offensive line with intensity in recruiting and on the field.

***

To a man, Oklahoma's players have called Bedenbaugh one of the most intense coaches on the staff. The offensive linemen feel that fire every day at practice and on game day. But it's been known to make its way out toward the exterior of OU's offense as well.

Senior wide receiver Jalen Saunders said Bedenbaugh has stopped him a number of times to congratulate him on a well-executed block on the sidelines. It usually ends in a high-five.

"He's always juiced up," Saunders said. "When someone makes a big block, he's congratulating them on the sideline. I like seeing Coach Bedenbaugh fired up."

Previously, the line was under the direction of two different position coaches. James Patton was responsible for the interior of the line -- center and guards -- while Bruce Kittle coached the tackles and tight ends.

Now, with all the offensive linemen in the same meeting room again and under the direction of one coach, continuity has been restored.

"I think he's been instrumental in not just a run scheme but our ability with our front five guys and our tight ends included, just how far we've come fundamentally, our ability to execute," Heupel said. "Their communication is a lot better than it was a year ago. And schematically obviously he's brought a lot to what we're doing."

Last year, Oklahoma's offense was built on finesse. This year it's built on an attitude of running at defenses and overpowering them with repackaged old school football.



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