OU offense learning its place

Sooners' attack is spurred by players excelling in key roles

The biggest knock on Oklahoma’s offense in the offseason was that it lacked a game-changer – one player that could take over any contest and will the Sooners to victory.

Oklahoma still doesn’t have one.

The Sooners have a bunch of really good players, but there isn’t an All-American skill player on the roster on offense.

Just because there isn’t one great player doesn’t mean the Oklahoma attack isn’t great.

“These guys all know through a long season they’re all going to have their opportunities,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “One game to another, someone is going to have the hot hand and have more opportunities. What I see as neat is they all pull for one another. Fortunately that’s been our culture here.” Stoops was specifically referencing his trio of young running backs, but the mantra has played through the entire team. The offense has adapted that mentality.

Each role is as important as the next, and it is what makes the Sooners’ offense churn – not one or two great players but six good ones.

“We talked about it today just watching the tape and where we can be better and where we were good,” Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “This offense is built on 11 guys operating as one. We don't have the pieces that if we don't collectively as a group play hard and play smart, we're not going to be what we need to be.

“And if we do those things, we'll play to our level.”

Everyone has their part to play.

Running back Keith Ford, a complete back in his own right, was third on the team in receiving yards before he was injured against Tennessee. Freshman Samaje Perine is the plodder. He leads the Big 12 rushing yards and is the only player in the conference averaging more than 100 yards per game, but he has only two catches in four games.

Alex Ross is the home-run hitter, with the three longest offensive plays of the season.

“He did it all through high school,” Oklahoma running back coach Cale Gundy said of Ross returning kick-offs. “He’s one of the fastest players we have on our team.”

Sterling Shepard has developed into the Sooners’ deep threat. He owns the three longest pass plays of the season and five of the six longest. There has been only one pass longer than 30 yards this season that was not completed to Shepard, when Durron Neal took a quick slant for 43 yards. “Sterling is a great talent,” Stoops said. “He’s explosive. He’s a great route runner. He’s got great hands. He can make competitive catches. He’s playing great.”

It’s wide receiver K.J. Young who has played the biggest and most surprising role. Even though the Sooners have struggled on third down, Young has turned into Oklahoma’s late-down weapon.

Of Young’s 13 season catches, six have converted a third down and one has converted a fourth down.

The rest of the team has converted only nine times on passing plays in the last two downs, and Young has had as many late-down conversions as the rest of the roster in the past two games. “Every game he’s making some third-down catches,” Stoops said. “Some big opportunities where we need him he’s come through. . . . You can’t live with just one guy. Those guys are coming on and doing more. That’s a positive for sure.”

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