NORMAN — One by one, Oklahoma’s offensive linemen nodded their heads when the topic arose. They’re well aware the Sooners’ quarterbacks have been sacked six times in two games.
“From a pure numbers perspective, that number of sacks is just too high,” center Gabe Ikard said. “It’s unacceptable for the guys we have on the line.”
That sack number sticks out like a flashing sign because protecting the quarterback has been a hallmark of OU’s for years. It hasn’t given up more than 21 sacks in a season since 2003. That was a 14-game season in which OU played five ranked teams. It’s currently on a pace to allow 39, and UTEP and Florida A&M won’t rocket up any polls anytime soon.
But you can’t put all of the blame on the offensive line for Landry Jones hitting the turf more than usual. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said only two of the six sacks allowed could truly be pinned on the offensive line. The sacks are also an indication of some of the growing pains the offense has experienced.
OU’s passing game is predicated on short, high-percentage passes. Jones rarely takes drops deeper than three steps and is supposed to get rid of the ball quickly.
But receivers have to get open quickly for that to happen. Most of the sacks OU’s allowed have come after Jones’ early reads have been covered.
“There’s a lot of things that come with that,” left guard Adam Shead said. “There’s everybody else: wide receivers and quarterbacks throwing the ball away. There’s a lot of things, but we all have to get on the same page.”
OU has had a lot of time to clean that up this week. It doesn’t play again until No. 15 Kansas State comes to Owen Field on Sept. 22. A lot of that extra time has been spent trying to get Jones and his receivers to see the same things. Blitzes aren’t just blockers responsibilities. Receivers have to recognize them as well and adjust routes. That’s where the rapport quarterbacks have to build with receivers comes into play.
Despite that, the offensive line isn’t off the hook. Jones has shown increased mobility this season. But too often he’s had to use it to escape early pressure instead of extending plays.
“They’re getting better. It’s pretty early to say what they need to get better at,” Jones said. “Obviously, in that first game, they were a little bit confused on some of the protections and still not on the same page, but I think (the FAMU) game definitely cleaned it up. We’ll have to see when we get on the film what they can improve on more.”
Slowing the pace of the sack total would be a good place to start. The Sooners aren’t going to roll up many points if their quarterback keeps hitting the ground.
“We’re already at six. A couple of those were with backup guys in there, but there’s no excuse for us giving up that many hits on the quarterback in the course of two games. It’s inexcusable,” Ikard said. “We’ve been working hard in our pass protection and our play-action game. That’s something we need to correct.”
John Shinn Follow me @john_shinn firstname.lastname@example.org