NORMAN — Oklahoma running back Brennan Clay was asked about the offense this week. He believes the group is a few “tweaks” from becoming explosive.
The running game is on track, but OU’s ability to throw the ball, which has long been the offensive pillar, is what requires modification.
It would be easy to lay the struggles in the first two games on redshirt freshman Trevor Knight. His accuracy and decision making were far from perfect. The 43.8 percent completion percentage (21-for-48) for 205 yards illustrate the struggles.
Throwing the ball is a three-part process: protection, delivery and reception.
The Sooners have allowed three sacks, which is far from perfect. But the play of the receivers is what has to be elevated.
“We have to continue to push forward with even with receivers,” OU coach Bob Stoops said.
The passing game has gone through a bigger overhaul than the quarterback since last January. One aspect the coaches point to is Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard both playing the outside receiver spots after both spent last season playing in the slot.
In terms of lining up, it just means moving about five yards farther away from the ball.
But routes are different on the outside and so are the defenders covering them. Slot receivers tend to feast because they go up against linebackers and safeties. Outside receivers go head-to-head with cornerbacks. They’re usually faster and physically more adept at running stride for stride with speedy receivers.
Still, the changes shouldn’t have thrown the passing as far off track as it has. In the West Virginia game, there were several instances of receivers running the wrong routes or missing audibles.
“There’s some growth that needs to happen there,” OU offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “We hoped it wouldn’t be as much as we’ve seen before. Hopefully, it will be better.”
Perhaps it will be better when Blake Bell makes his first start at 11 a.m. Saturday against Tulsa. There’s no way to really know. Bell’s been part of the offense for three years, but he’s never been tasked with throwing precision passes in a game.
It shouldn’t be as hard as OU has made it look. The way it has run the ball in the first two games should create limitless play-action opportunities and a plethora of one-on-one chances for receivers.
Thus far, OU hasn’t been able to take advantage. Through the first two games, it’s averaging just 10.1 yards per catch. It should be a much bigger number.
“It comes back to us saying we just have to come out and make more plays,” Saunders said of the receivers.
The ability to connect for some big plays is the only thing this offense lacks to go from plodding to explosive.
Bell could be the missing ingredient, but the early troubles can’t all be placed on the quarterback.
“It’s not one guy. It’s not just the receiver position. It’s not just the quarterbacks. It’s everybody. It’s 11 guys on offense,” Heupel said. “Certainly our receivers need to play better than they have. They understand that. They need to be more precise in everything that they’re doing. The quarterbacks do, too.”
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