In the weeks leading up to the AT&T Cotton Bowl, SoonerNation will take a look back at how the Sooners performed position by position and give each group a grade based on that performance. Today, we examine the guard and center position.
Highlights: The injuries were downright incredible. Before the season even began, OU lost starters Ben Habern and Tyler Evans for the year to injuries. A few weeks into the season, the Sooners lost top reserve Nila Kasitati to injury as well. With no depth remaining, guards Adam Shead and Bronson Irwin had to battle through ankle injuries all season. Even center Gabe Ikard missed the Baylor game because of a concussion. In 2009, the offensive line experienced similar injuries. And that line completely wilted. This line did not. And somehow kept performing at a high level all season. Even in the final game, Shead couldn’t continue to go because of his back and ankle. Ikard slid to guard, and true freshman Ty Darlington came in at center. And yet, the line didn’t miss a beat. That game underscored the entire season.
Lowlights: The Sooners were dominated up front in their two losses. OU struggled to run the ball against Kansas State, and couldn’t do anything against Notre Dame nose guard Stephon Tuitt. In that game, the Irish used only three down linemen, and only Louis Nix in the middle. And still, the Sooners struggled to block him or create running lanes.
Surprises: When Evans went down, OU fans feared that the offensive line would experience a drop-off. Bob Stoops, however, was confident that Irwin was ready to fill in for Evans. Stoops was right. Irwin was one of OU’s most consistent offensive performers, despite being hobbled by an ankle injury most of the season. Because of his tenacity, Irwin earned the nickname among his peers as the “War Daddy.”
Grade: A-. Given that OU lost two of its four players on the interior before the season began, this group couldn’t have had a better season. Both tough and resilient, they did a phenomenal job protecting Landry Jones and were effective in the run game outside the Kansas State and Notre Dame games. With Evans and Kasitati returning next season to flank Ikard, Shead and Irwin, this ought to be the deepest unit on the team in 2013.