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September 2, 2010

OU looks to exorcise short-yardage demons

Flash back to the 2009 season opener against BYU and you'll find where Oklahoma's offensive line woes started.

Early in the fourth quarter, with the Sooners leading the Cougars 10-7, Oklahoma faced a 3rd-and-Goal from the BYU one-yard line.

One yard is all the Sooners needed to put away BYU and avoid the biggest opening weekend upset in college football.

Landry Jones took the snap and lunged forward on a quarterback sneak.

He didn't gain the needed yard.

On fourth down, Oklahoma failed to get the play in on time. The Sooners were pushed back five yards and Jimmy Stevens hit a 22-yard field goal to put the Sooners up 13-7.

BYU immediately went on a 16-play, 78-yard march to score the game-deciding touchdown.

The Sooners inability to pick up one-yard was the difference.

The following week, OU welcomed lowly Idaho State to Norman for their home opener. They ended up winning the game 64-0, but on their first possession of that game, the Sooners found themselves in a 4th-and-Goal situation on the one-yard line.

Once again, the Sooners needed a single yard.

Jones once again took the snap and lunged forward. And once again he went nowhere.

"Yeah, I was in on that play against BYU and Idaho State," Ben Habern said almost apologetically. "That's an emphasis we put on ourselves going into the offseason. We want to improve on short-yardage, whether it's 3rd-and-short or 3rd-and-inches on the goal line."

The Sooners never found a way to establish a consistent running game last season. Those two plays ended up defining Oklahoma's ability to run the football in 2009.

Flash forward to the season opener in 2010 against Utah State, and this group of offensive linemen is chomping at the bit for a chance to prove this line is not the same one who struggled a season ago.

"We've got a lot of guys back and just being able to watch us on film until now, we've just kind of tuned everything up," said Habern. "We've eliminated the mistakes that we made last year. I do feel we're a more cohesive group and we play better together and everybody is flying around right now and I think people just cannot wait until Saturday."

Habern won't mind if the Sooners do find themselves in another one-yard must-make conversion at the opponents goal line in the season opener.

"If the opportunity is there I'd like to, just to show our fans and the media that we can get it done," said Habern. "hat's a fun play for the offensive line anyways because it's just you and the guy in front of you and who's going to win. That's what offensive linemen thrive off of and that's what we enjoy. Definitely improving on that is going to be good for Saturday."

Offensive line coach James Patton believes this year's offensive line will be much more physical than last year's line which featured converted tight end Brody Eldridge and a lighter Habern.

"Tyler (Evans) is 330 pounds and Gabe (Ikard) is bigger and Stephen (Good) is 315 pounds or whatever," said Patton. "Expectation is high. I'm anxious to see how we play and execute and play smart and do all the things we need to do."

With so much size up front, Patton is right there with Habern. He wants to see the line convert a critical short-yardage play on Saturday and set the tone for the rest of the season.

"We need to establish that temperament," he said. "In critical situations where we need to run it, we need to get it done."


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