NORMAN — It’s ironic the position that turned the tide for Oklahoma at Kansas is one that’s technically void. The Sooners don’t really have a tight end. The willingness to play Trey Millard and Aaron Ripkowski at the spot turned out to be a difference-making decision.
“That was a really good set for us today,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said last Saturday. “It helped us in a couple play-action passes that didn’t work out, but we were really efficient running the football on the edge.”
The ability to run the ball is the reason having Millard and Ripkowski on the field at the same time seems to have kick-started the Sooners’ offense.
It’s a reasonable assumption after seven games that OU’s offense isn’t going to put up great passing numbers. The reality is: Blake Bell is averaging 157.0 passing yards a game. The best executed passing play all season came when a receiver (Lacoltan Bester) threw a reverse pass for a 49-yard touchdown.
The decision to use Ripkowski and Millard extensively against Kansas showed how the coaching staff has come to grips with what the Sooners do best.
“We’ve had some success in it. Especially just finishing out games, we’ve had quite a bit of success with being able to stay on the field and running out clock,” Millard said. “When we’ve had to do that, we’ve done a good job running it, even when the defenses know we’re going to run it.”
The ability to run the ball when teams know it’s coming is going to be essential for the rest of the season. Kansas didn’t care how many receivers the Sooners put on the field. It played one safety deep and kept at least seven players in the box at all times.
No. 10 Texas Tech, which OU plays host to Saturday, is likely to do the same thing.
What Millard and Ripkowski provide is the ability to run the ball regardless, because they can lead block and block in-line at the line of scrimmage. Millard has proven he can make very positive things happen with the ball.
“They’re very important. We have versatile players, and Rip’s been that kind of a guy for us this year. He’s kinda playing a couple of different roles as a fullback, as a tight end, not his natural position. And Trey’s done the same thing, so those guys have been very, very important with our ability to run on the edges and play in our 12 (one running back, two tight ends) personnel with two tights or two fullbacks, however you wanna call them,” receivers coach Jay Norvell said. “So it’s been very important. We’ve gotta do a better job going play action, and our alternate plays off our run game are important.”
Offensively, the Sooners have always been their best when they have players who can play multiple positions. Two of the best of the last 10 years were tight end Jermaine Gresham and running back DeMarco Murray. Gresham could easily split out to receiver. Murray could do the same.
Millard and Ripkowski aren’t in their class as receivers or running backs, but they can do multiple things. Above all else, they showed last week the offense looks a lot better when they’re on the field. That’s the trait the Sooners care about most.
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