The Norman Transcript

November 9, 2013

Sooners’ problems are evident, but a solution may not be that clear

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Oklahoma’s offensive problems did not start with Thursday’s loss to Baylor. The sluggish starts and inconsistent quarterback play have plagued it the entire season.

What really comes to the forefront after the 41-12 loss to the Bears is do the Sooners have the ability to change things?

After Thursday’s loss OU coach Bob Stoops stopped short of saying offensive personnel would change. He defended quarterback Blake Bell and offensive coordinator Josh Heupel. But he did say everything would be evaluated this weekend when the coaches returned from the recruiting trail.

The Sooners (7-2, 4-2 Big 12) have six more days to prepare for their final home game. Iowa State visits Owen Field at 11 a.m. Saturday.

“All I know is, from here, we have to go in the right direction and get ready for the Cyclones at home — that’s all we can do,” Bell said.

What OU has to do is figure out what it aspires to be as an offense. Through nine games, what OU has tried has been a failure. It’s currently averaging 28.9 points a game and set to be the lowest scoring OU team since 2005.

Much like that team of eight years ago, OU had a first-year starting quarterback. But the differences end there. Experienced starters have surrounded the quarterback since the opening snap this season.

The offensive line is stocked with veterans. The running backs are seniors. With the exception of sophomore Sterling Shepard, all the receivers the Sooners are using are experienced upper classmen.

But the production doesn’t mirror the experience.

OU thought it had things going in the right direction after its 38-30 victory over Texas Tech Oct. 26. But considering the Red Raiders have given up 101 points in their games following the loss to OU, it wasn’t much of a feat.

“It’s extremely disappointing that we didn’t come out and play better in multiple ways: throwing it, catching it, third-down conversions, being more efficient running the football,” Heupel said Thursday night. “… There were a lot of things that we did not do well tonight. All of those things need to be corrected. We played well a week ago. We obviously didn’t handle this situation very well.”

Offensively, the Sooners haven’t handled the season very well. Outside of the Tulsa game — Bell’s first start — they’ve been completely inept at the start of the games.

It’s scored 33 first-quarter points this season. Remove an interception return for a touchdown against Notre Dame and a 32-yard touchdown drive set up by another turnover in that game, and it’s 19 first-quarter points OU has put together with lengthy drives in the opening minutes.

Then there’s the issue of OU’s quarterback running game. Blake Bell had an easily recognizable strength — he could run the ball. Even that attribute has disappeared this season. The Belldozer has had zero traction this season. He hasn’t scored a single rushing touchdown, and OU has only rushed for 11 as team.

OU rushed for 30 in each of the previous two seasons. Bell accounted for 24 of them.

There are three regular-season games left. The Sooners better use them to devise a long-term plan for what they want to do as an offense.

Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops had a plan for this season. That unit has improved throughout the season despite injuries and youth. He wanted to get longer and faster on his side of the ball and did it.

The offense needs a similar plan.

“We’ve got three quality opponents left. You can either pack it in and hang your head and feel sorry for yourself and get beat three more times or you can come back, be a man, show some character, respond to this adversity, come back play and represent the University of Oklahoma well and play for your family, your teammates, everyone that’s involved and loves this program,” center Gabe Ikard said. “It’s one of those things where we’re not used to getting beat like this. We shouldn’t get beat like this but we’ve got to take it for what it is, come back to work and be men about what happened.”

Effort alone won’t take OU out of its offensive funk. There has to be a plan. The path they’re currently on just isn’t working.

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn

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