The idea around Oklahoma’s new offense under first-year coordinator Lincoln Riley was that the Sooners weren’t going to force the ball to any one player. They were going to stay within the offense and ride the hot hand.
Though November that has changed a little bit. Oklahoma has gotten in ball in receiver Sterling Shepard's hands more often than not. He has more receptions and receiving yards through the past three games than the rest of the team combined.
It’s not just because he’s part of the offense.
“You’ve gotta get him involved in big-time situations,” Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “He’s a guy that when you target him, he’s going to catch it. You can count on him. Ultimately, he’s a game changer. You can rely on him. We have other guys that can do it, but he’s such a special player that you need to get the ball in his hands. That’s what we try to do.”
Shepard has combined for 32 catches for 375 yards against Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State. The rest of the team has 23 catches for 278 yards combined. Shepard’s five receiving touchdowns in November is just one less than the rest of the team combined, but fullback Dimitri Flowers has three of those receiving touchdowns.
Earlier this season, Riley said that Shepard and former ECU receiver and all-time NCAA receptions leader Justin Hardy were similar. But where Hardy, who had at least 110 catches his final two years, was robotic, Shepard is more dynamic.
Because of that, Shepard hasn’t gotten lost in the structure of the offense. Aided by a fully healthy senior season, Shepard has already posted a career-best in receptions, yards and touchdowns.
He’s averaging 15.2 yards per catch, better than any single season from Hardy, and he has 11 touchdowns. One more touchdown catch and he’ll have the most by an Oklahoma receiver since 2010, which was also the last time a receiver had at least 12 touchdowns in Riley’s offense.
It’s al been about preparation for Shepard, who led Oklahoma in receptions and yards only three times before the three-game November run.
“That’s been the big thing, is staying consistent at practice,” he said. “Just trying to be sharp on everything in practice. That’s the main thing.”