The Norman Transcript

September 27, 2012

Moving forward, finding offensive identity must be Sooners’ top priority

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — The uniforms haven’t changed, but there’s a lot about Oklahoma’s offense that doesn’t appear the same.

Through three games, it hasn’t played at the rapid pace of past seasons. It’s run the ball effectively enough, averaging 6.1 yards per carry, but it only ran the ball 27 times in Saturday’s 24-19 loss to Kansas State.

The 16th-ranked Sooners seem to have an offensive identity crisis. After three games, they haven’t locked in to what they do well.

“I’d say we’re making it confusing for the coaches,” center Gabe Ikard said. “Some days we’re running the ball really well and some days were not. Protection is firm and crisp some days and other days it’s not. We’ve made it tough for (offensive coordinator Josh) Heupel to call plays.”

They’ve been the model of an inconsistent unit, at times moving the ball with precision. At other times, it’s simply grounding to a halt. Quarterback Landry Jones, who has admittedly struggled in the first three games, said there’s no real difference between the Sooners’ offense from 2010 and 2011 to the one he’s running now. The plays are the same and so is the scheme. However, the personnel is different. Five of the eight receivers, running backs or tight ends that caught passes against Kansas State were playing in their third career games at OU.

Clearly, the comfort level Jones had with previous receiving corps hasn’t carried over.

“You do scratch your head. You wonder and you think,” Jones said. “It drives me nuts that we’re kind of underachieving right now. I feel like, especially for myself, definitely been underachieving this whole year, but it’s one of those things that we played a good team in Kansas State and we made mistakes that put us into a position that we couldn’t win.”

The mistakes were a fumble by Jones that gave Kansas State a touchdown and a fumble by backup quarterback Blake Bell at the Kansas State 2-yard line that ended a potential touchdown drive.

One of the reasons OU was in position to punch the ball in the end zone when Bell fumbled was because it picked up the speed of the offense during the drive. The Sooners have seemed to been their most effective when playing at a fast tempo. But a team that is only rotating two offensive linemen and about five receivers — with four of them in their first season with the program — can only go so fast.

“Depth and your youth play into it,” Heupel said. “When you play efficiently, good things happen. You try to put your kids in positions to play efficient. Sometimes you put them in tempo situations and other times you keep them out of it.”

Zeroing in on what works and what doesn’t is the must-accomplish task this week. The Sooners don’t play again until Oct. 6 at Texas Tech. Between now and then, some of the questions have to be answered. The Sooners have to claim some sort of identity and build on it.

It might mean playing faster and firing the ball all over the field. It might mean lining up in the I-formation and handing the ball to running backs Dominique Whaley and Damien Williams 40 times a game. The Sooners have shown the ability to do both, but they haven’t shown the capability of building the offense around either.

“You’re always tweaking things and trying to play to your personnel,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “… We’ve got quite a few new pieces that we’re working with. All the new receivers, new tight ends. That needs to continue to develop. And then as they develop, who are our better ones and how do we play to their strengths? How do we stay away from their weaknesses? You’re always looking at that.”

After three games, the Sooners still haven’t found what they’re looking for.

John ShinnFollow me @john_shinnjshinn@normantranscript.com

 

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