During the next two weeks, Sooners Illustrated will look back on the 2015 Oklahoma football season: Evaluating each possession group, recapping key moments, reliving the biggest surprises and assigning an overall grade for the year.
We’ll start with quarterback play and end with the kicking game.
Summary: The year started with questions and hope about Oklahoma first-year offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley’s “air raid” and the prospects of new quarterback and noted gunslinger Baker Mayfield. The receiving corps was re-invigorated and excited for what the year would hold. And the results mostly lived up to the hype. Mayfield was a Heisman contender until the final week of the season, and Riley was named the top assistant coach in the nation. Neither could have done it without the receiving corps, a group that had plenty of new faces and Sterling Shepard. Durron Neal had the best season of his career while Mark Andrews, Dede Westbrook and Jarvis Baxter each made a significant impact in their first year on the field.
Best player: Shepard was clearly Oklahoma’s best receiver this season, and it wasn’t very close. He had to do less this season in terms of percentage than in past years, but Shepard still had more than 40 catches and 500 yards than any other player. He had as many touchdowns catches as any other three receivers combined – with Andrews’ seven touchdowns classified under tight ends. Making the case for Shepard’s importance and talent is feeble, though. That’s something that not many Oklahoma fans will ever question.
Biggest surprise: It was clear that Andrews and Westbrook needed to step up and play significant roles in their first year on the field – the first on the roster for Westbrook. Jarvis Baxter was a bit of a surprise too, coming on early to earn bench snaps out of the slot and likely earning a starting spot for next year despite joining the Sooners as a walk-on. The biggest surprise of the bunch has to go to Andrews, although not for his success. Andrews had at least one catch in only nine games this season and had more than one catch just four times. It always felt like he’d be a bigger part of the offense outside of the red zone. He just wasn’t.
Best moment: Westbrook’s one-handed touchdown grab? Shepard’s high-flying, game-winning score against Tennessee. Andrews scramble drill touchdown when Mayfield seemed all but out of the play? There were a lot of good singular moments this season from the receivers – and a few that gave excitement about the future. It’s a little out of the box, but Shepard’s senior day celebration was the best moment. He’ll go down as one of the greatest receivers in Oklahoma history and the emotion was clearly special. It wasn’t an on the field play, but that night was one of the best moments of the season. Shepard did have 111 yards and one touchdown against TCU as well.
Biggest weakness: Play behind Shepard continued to be an issue for Oklahoma. It wasn’t as bad as it had been in the past with Westbrook and Andrews both averaging more than 16 yards per catch. There are still major questions about the receiving corps moving forward now that the top two pass catches from each of the past two seasons will graduate. Oklahoma never found its next big playmaker on the outside. It hurts more going forward than it did this year. Someone will have to step up. There’s a long list: Jeffery Mead, Michiah Quick, AD Miller, Dahu Green, Dallis Todd. Somebody has to rise to the top.
Final grade: B