GRIFFIN makes running game a threat again

Friday, September 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ If Quentin Griffin keeps this up much longer, No. 3 Oklahoma might become known as a running school again.

Griffin, a junior running back, ran for a career-best 201 yards last week in the Sooners' 44-3 victory at Air Force. His running helped open things up for Nate Hybl and the passing game, something coach Bob Stoops expects to see more of Saturday night against North Texas and throughout the season.

``We've evolved and certainly are a team that I hope when defenses defend us, they have to deal with the run game,'' Stoops said. ``They can't come out and just say, 'We're going to do all these crazy coverages and all these crazy blitzes and ignore the run game.' ''

Oklahoma (2-0) built its rich tradition on the ground, not through the air. But when Stoops took over as coach in 1999, he felt the Sooners' best chance to get better was to do it through the air.

In 1999, the Sooners' leading rusher, Michael Thornton, carried just 78 times during the regular season, although he missed part of the year with an injury. Oklahoma averaged 105 yards per game on the ground.

Last year, Oklahoma still did much of its work through the air but Griffin carried 189 times for 783 yards. The Sooners averaged 134 yards per game rushing.

``Never, ever ... did I not want to have a good running game,'' Stoops said. ``We always had felt from Day One until now that that part of our game was something we would continually concentrate on, continually improve, and get better at as we went. We're always going to do that.

``I do believe in being good at both, throwing and running, according to what defenses are trying to take away from you.''

Given Oklahoma's scheme, it isn't likely that the offense will evolve to a point where the Sooners will run as often as they throw. But that isn't important to Stoops. He wants quality, not quantity _ effectively running the ball is better than running just to run.

``Last year, that happened for us,'' he said.

Stoops rattled off the examples _ Griffin had the only touchdown run in the national championship game against Florida State. He had big TD runs in both games against Kansas State, and had another in the comeback against Texas A&M. He scored six times against Texas.

Quick and elusive, Griffin also catches the ball well enough to make the swing pass one of Oklahoma's most productive plays.

Air Force coaches and players raved about Griffin after his play last week, and Stoops said Griffin is beginning to get more and more recognition.

``So much of the time with the running back, people just focus on total yards and not on touches and touchdowns and what he does for your offense,'' Stoops said. ``This year, we're hopeful he'll continue to play like he has.

``But a lot of that, again, depends on how people are going to play.''

North Texas (0-1) opened its season last week with a 19-5 loss to TCU. The Mean Green has lost its past six season-opening road games, and Oklahoma is an overwhelming favorite to run that streak to seven.

``You're not going to stop Oklahoma. Nobody has,'' coach Darrell Dickey said. ``What you hope to do is contain them and slow them down.''