Oklahoma offensive tackle Adrian Ealy came from the 2017 class just like linebacker Kenneth Murray. So did Marquis Hayes, Creed Humphrey and Tyrese Robinson, three other starters on the offensive line.
“I know the ability that they have. I know the talent that they have,” Murray said. “The offensive line was never in my mind something we had to worry about.”
But it worried some people, with OU replacing four NFL players up front. A lot of that doubt was erased in Sunday’s 49-31 victory over Houston.
OU totaled 686 yards of offense, averaging 9.6 per carry on the ground. Jalen Hurts’ prolific start at quarterback was made easier by an offensive line that is still searching for a permanent left tackle, yet still managed on its first try to open huge gaps in field like its predecessors.
What the fourth-ranked Sooners lacked up front they made up for with skill players at other positions, such as Hurts’ scrambling ability during some breakdowns. But further reviews of the blocking were largely positive.
“We certainly more than held our own,” Riley said. “Any time you produce running and throwing like we did, that’s the first place you look. There were a lot more positives than negatives, but that group is gonna have to continue to evolve and grow for us.”
Hurts piled up 176 yards rushing and Trey Sermon added 91 on 11 carries. Kennedy Brooks carried just four times, but finished with 46 yards.
In the fourth quarter, JUCO transfer Rhamondre Stevenson averaged 6.8 yards per carry and quickly recorded his first collegiate touchdown behind the combination of Erik Swenson, Hayes, Humphrey, Robinson and Ealy.
The lone kink to work out is whether redshirt junior Swenson or redshirt senior R.J. Proctor will play left tackle. Proctor got the start over Swenson last week, but their snaps were split fairly evenly.
Swenson’s trying to earn a spot after initially committing to Michigan, then having his scholarship pulled following the shift to Jim Harbaugh’s regime. Proctor’s received rave reviews since coming to OU as a graduate-transfer from Virginia.
Proctor got a leg up on the competition when Swenson recovered from an injury in the preseason. Both are healthy and competing for the job.
“We knew going in we were going to play both of them and made a game-time decision there to start R.J. They both did a good job,” Riley said. “We feel we have two good left tackles there, so we’re going to continue to compete, and if one separates, then he’ll play more.”
It’s a close battle.
“I think they both deserve to play,” offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh said. “If guys deserve to play, they’re gonna play. We’ll split reps with them. Nobody has truly separated themselves as the starter.”
Compliments are difficult to come by in OU’s offense. Starting center Creed Humphrey called the line’s fast start a “good starting point,” similar to the way Riley categorized Sunday’s rout of Houston.
The coach also wondered out loud if this group might have to shapeshift more than year’s past, certainly more than 2018, when Bobby Evans, Ben Powers, Humphrey, Dru Samia and Cody were a model of consistency. They started the same positions in 12 of 14 games, including the final 11 straight.
But left guard Marquis Hayes, Humphrey, right guard Tyrese Robinson and right tackle Adrian Ealy looked fairly settled just one game into this season.
“For all new guys playing together for the first time, it was good,” Bedenbaugh said. “But we’re not looking for good. We’re looking to be the best.”
South Dakota (0-1) at No. 4 Oklahoma (1-0)
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Where: Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium
Line: OU (-36.5)
TV: PPV (Cox HD 505; AT&T U-verse 1636 HD/636 SD; DIRECTV TBD)
Radio: KRXO-FM 107.7