NORMAN — Any football coach eventually has to make this simple decision: Do they want to create a system and recruit players that fit into it, or will they assess the talent the roster has to offer and run what best fits them?
It has becomes more apparent every season that Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel has decided he wants to be in the second group.
“You’ve got to fit whatever you’re doing to your personnel. I’ve been here for three years as a coordinator and for some unforeseen circumstances — or this year you have a change in quarterback and your personnel that you’ve got coming back is different, too — we’ve changed all three years,” Heupel said.
The obvious change this season has been an emphasis on running the ball. OU ran the ball 50 times against Louisiana-Monroe in the 34-0 victory. The last time, it had that many carries was October’s 63-21 rout of Texas. The Sooners spent the entire second half trying to run out the clock after erecting a 33-point halftime lead.
If the trend holds, the Sooners will actually run the ball more than they pass for the first time since 2008.
The running emphasis goes beyond taking advantage of Trevor Knight’s speed and elusiveness.
The last two seasons the Sooners threw it more than 55 percent of the time, but Heupel insists that was what the personnel dictated. Landry Jones couldn’t run, but he was an effective short- to mid-range passer.
It takes experience to put the success or failure on the quarterback’s arm more often than not. It’s a variable OU no longer has at the quarterback position.
Knight’s youth and athletic ability, coupled with an experienced offensive line and three senior running backs and a senior fullback, means a different emphasis.
“You’ve got to take some off of his (Knight’s) plate, and then the personnel that we’ve got back that’s experienced makes you be different, too,” Heupel said. “Every year is different in college football. You can’t just go sign a free agent, necessarily, to fit your system every year. We’re just trying to get them in the right position to be successful.”
Most successful OU offensive coordinators have used that philosophy. The offense has always tilted in a direction based on the cast. Kevin Wilson was offensive coordinator in 2006 and 2007, when OU ran the ball to control the clock and let its defense win games.
He also installed the record-setting up-tempo offense the Sooners ran in 2008. OU had an experienced quarterback in Sam Bradford and unique players like tight end Jermaine Gresham and running back DeMarco Murray.
What OU has done this season isn’t quite as dramatic as the elimination of the huddle. But it shows he’s willing to make major changes if that’s what best fits the offense.
Heupel learned long ago, that was the best route to success. His father, Ken, was a coach. He taught his son that rosters change every season and coaches have to change along with them.
“Just growing up around it, watching it, being a part of it, you’ve got to find a way to make your guys be successful,” Heupel said.
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