NORMAN — Before the season began, Oklahoma made a commitment to improve its running game. The goal was to take pressure off its defense, shorten games and limit the defense’s exposure.
There was another essential ingredient to OU becoming a better team. The Sooners’ special teams had to play at a very high level.
The emphasis on the running game somewhat limits the offense’s big-play potential. Field position becomes more important.
Look back at the Sooners’ 33-24 victory over Oklahoma State Dec. 7. The Sooners won that game with their offense on the field for just one touchdown — with less than a minute to play.
Special teams was responsible for two of the other three with a punt return from Jalen Saunders and a fake-field-goal pass from holder Grant Bothun to kicker Michael Hunnicutt.
“There were a lot of things that went on in the football game that you can be very proud of. The guys played hard,” special teams coordinator Jay Boulware said. “I’m pleased, not to the extent that I’m saying everything went perfect, but there were a lot of things that went our way that day.”
Those same things need to happen when the 11th-ranked Sooners (10-2) face No. 3 Alabama (11-1) Jan. 2 at the Sugar Bowl.
Bringing in Boulware as special teams coordinator prior to this season has been a boon.
The Sooners have won games because of their special teams play this season. Michael Hunnicutt has turned into one of the best kickers in the nation. Saunders has averaged 63.6 punt return yards over the last two games, scored two touchdowns and set up a 3-yard touchdown drive with a return.
It hasn’t been by fluke. The Sooners have heavily emphasized special teams this season. Saunders said special teams film study rivals the video work he does at the receiver spot.