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: Another roller coaster season for the special teams group that included missed kicks, a make streak, a mix of great and horrible returns and solid punting. There was a new face doing the kicking as Austin Seibert won the job in the preseason but Sterling Shepard and Alex Ross both returned as punt returner and kick return, respectively. What broke down as the year progressed was the blocking, with key injuries to players like Rodney Anderson and the lack of players like current NFL fullback Aaron Ripkowski to open holes.
Best player: Consistency goes a long way on special teams, and Shepard was by far the most consistent. In fact, punt returns actually became a statistic that Oklahoma had to keep this season. The Sooners saw just a small bump in average but had more than twice the amount of returns and yards this season. Blocking was better, and Shepard had a chance to do more than just fair catch this season – although there was a still a lot of room for him to be more of a playmaker.
Biggest surprise: Ross was one of the most dangerous returners last year, scoring one touchdown and averaging 31.2 yards per return. This year, his average dropped almost 10 yards per return, and the Sooners held no distinct advantage. Never a very shifty player, Ross relied on blocking to use his track-star speed. It never materialized, outside of his 90-yarder.
Best moment: With all eyes on the freshman kicker, Seibert proved he was worthy of being ranked as the nation’s No. 1 kicker out of high school when he knocked through eight-straight field goals to start his career with the Sooners. He fell into a bit of a skid after that though and finished the season 18-for-23 with two missed extra points. He also averaged 42 yards per punt.
Biggest weakness: Consistency. There was none. Shepard could never break a big punt return. Ross’ impact was reduced greatly. Seibert was great at times and unreliable other times. The return game was hampered by injuries to depth player and a lack of reliable blocking. Seibert’s biggest issue? It’s still just his first year on campus. Kickers need experience. Seibert has confidence, but he needs kicks.
Final grade: C+