Oklahoma heads into Big 12 Conference play 4-0 and ranked third in the country, but plenty of questions remain about the Sooner offense. The Sooner defense is still one of the best in the country and once again appeared poised to post their third shutout in four games when the reserves allowed South Florida two touchdowns in the final two minutes of the game.
The defense looks solid. Sure, we could knick pick and say they don't get enough pressure on the quarterback, or they don't do this or that, but the bottom line is that any team that faces the Sooner defense this year knows they are in a heck of a battle.
However, on offense the Sooners are a totally different story. Right now the best player on the Sooner offense is Antonio Perkins and he never takes a snap with the basic eleven. Perkins' punt returns either puts points on the board or gives the Sooners such great field position that the Sooners at least have a chance to score.
The Sooners' efforts to run the ball have been met with poor results. Granted, the running game rallied the Sooners against Alabama ,and that is why I still have hope they can become a solid running team. However, only in the Tulsa game did the Sooners consistently win the battle at the line of scrimmage. In the other three games Oklahoma's offensive line either failed to win the battle or battled to a draw at best.
So let's call a spade a spade. The problem with the offense is not Nate Hybl, it is not Quentin Griffin, it is not any of the other running backs and it is not the wide receivers. The problem with the Sooner offense, and still its biggest question, is the offensive line.
I realize this is same song or sixth verse, but that is the way it is. Right now the Sooners have a question mark on offense, because they don't have a dominating offensive line.
"I was disappointed with our effort in the offensive line last night," said offensive line coach and run game coordinator Kevin Wilson. "We need to be more physical and that is what we are preaching, and I don't know if they are hearing my preaching any more. We need to pick it up and I will do whatever it takes to get five on the field that will get after it."
"I will give credit to South Florida, but once again we came out of the gates for the second half a little flat," continued Wilson. "I thought we did some decent things in the first half, but to come out in the second half like we did puzzles me. Now, we have come out of the gates two out of four times for the second half with the lead flat, and I don't know why. I really felt like we had a good week going into the South Florida game and felt we prepared well. We will look at that aspect of our game, but most of all I am going to start asking the kids to start pointing a thumb at themselves a pick it up a little bit. It is time for league play and it is time to pick up the pace. I don't think we are that far away, but we need to play a lot better than we did today."
"Again, I liked, for the most part during the week, how we prepared for the game," said Wilson. "From Monday through Thursday we had a good week of practice. However, following Thursday's practice it is up to the players to make sure they are mentally right for the game. They need to do whatever they need to do to make sure they can bring their ‘A' game to the stadium. For some reason, I don't feel our players did what it takes to bring their best game to the stadium last night. I felt we as coaches did what we needed to do to give them a chance."
"Against Alabama I didn't feel that way. I felt that we as coaches let the players down, however last night I didn't feel that way. Our kids have to start pointing at themselves and start pointing at themselves as a group and start going in the right direction."
It's apparent that the Sooners don't have a dominating offensive lineman. They don't have an offensive lineman who they feel they can run behind and get yardage no matter what. Wes Sims, Vince Carter and Jammal Brown all have that potential, but they are not becoming that type of player yet on the offensive line.
Now, we have to question to their attitude. Since Kevin Wilson has been on the staff at OU he has preached he wanted a more physical offensive line. He wanted an offensive line that played with a defensive attitude. Well, he is not getting that at the moment and even the other players are beginning to notice.
"There is a lot that goes into the run game, but the bottom line is the offensive line," said senior quarterback Nate Hybl after the game. "I am not pointing fingers at anybody, but anybody that has played football knows for us to run the ball our offensive line has to be the ringleaders up front. I can fake and so some things to help and the running backs of course have to run hard, hit the holes and make things happen. However, the offensive line is the key to any run game, just like my ability to throw the ball plays a big role in our ability to pass the ball. Right now the biggest adjustment that I see we need to make is in our attitude and for us to get tougher. We won the football game and we are happy about that, but we need to get a lot better offensively."
"We can't play like we did against South Florida offensively and beat many teams in the Big 12 conference," Hybl continued. "Coach Wilson and Coach Long started this toughness attitude with us in the spring and we were making ground at that time, and we were where we wanted to be coming into this game. However, we didn't get it done in this game and we took a step back. We have a lot of work to get done next week and we are really looking forward to going and play Missouri."
The key question is will Coach Wilson make any changes? And does he even feel he has the personal to make any changes at this time? Many times when fans or the media call for changes, the problem is that the coaches don't feel they have any personnel to make changes with.
The Offensive coaches doubled their meeting time on Sunday. In fact, they started very early in the morning and planned to go into the late evening. The coaches are evaluating every aspect of their offense to try to come up with something they can hang their hat on.
However, that may be the problem. OU doesn't have anything they can really hang their hat on offensively. OU is a passing team that is trying to become more of a running team. They are committed to do this, but in the process they have become a team that really isn't good at doing anything at this point.
Sure, the Sooners are still throwing the ball fairly well, but they are not setting any records at this point. OU hit on 22 of 34 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns. For most people that is a pretty solid day. However, it's the 45 yards rushing at 1.4 yards per carry that is worrisome. The Sooners 3.4 yards per play is nothing to brag about either.
We knew that South Florida was a pretty good at rushing the passer and they got to Hybl three times. He was pressured for most of the night. However, in the first half the Sooners were able to take advantage of that pressure by coming up with enough big plays to move the ball. The touchdown pass to a diving Will Peoples is a perfect example. However, from the 9:44 mark of the third quarter the Sooners managed just 17 yards and two first downs the rest of the way. That just won't get it done. Getting 17 yards for more than a quarter and a half will eventually jump up and bite the Sooners.
"I realize there are some positives that are evident when you are up in a game 31-0 with just a few minutes left in the game, but I am not at all happy with the inconsistency with anything that we are doing offensively," said OU Head Coach Bob Stoops. "We have too many breakdowns in different parts of the game offensively that hurt us. We need to get more consistency and eliminate the bad plays. We need to be able to run the ball better and throw the ball better. We need to find some rhythm and not let us get taken out as often as we do."
"There are times when in the offensive line we execute pretty well, but there are just too many times where it is inconsistent and we don't execute real well, " Stoops continued. "We break down on blocking assignments and execution, and get into a situation where we are not picking up first downs and moving the football. That happens all too often for us against South Florida."
As of today the coaches aren't ready to admit they will make changes in the offense line. Plus, at this point they aren't being quoted on injuries. There is some kind of federal law that is being put in to place, that according to Coach Stoops, may mean that he can't talk about injuries. So, he is taking the fifth right now on Brad Davis. However, Davis has a sprained ankle that may require him to miss the game against Missouri.
If it does it will be interesting to see if the Sooners move Wes Sims inside and start Jerod Fields, or if they would start Kelvin Chaisson. I have been told several times that Sims could be a tremendous offensive guard, but at this time they feel his is the best offensive tackle they have on campus.
The real possibility for a change is at right guard where senior Mike Skinner is getting pushed by true freshman Davin Joseph. Joseph has a tremendous upside to him and he is the type of physical player that Coach Wilson likes. Skinner has always been a steady player, but never the strength of the offensive line. At the moment, if you had to rank the five lineman on the OU front Skinner would be number five. Joseph is going to be a starter next year for sure, but his time may come sooner. Look for him to at least get more playing time in the next few games.
Could changes be on the way, or is that not the answer? Is the offensive line playing well or as bad as it looks?
"We are playing pretty good, but still I think we can be a lot better," said Wilson. "That is why we want to look at how we can package things, even though our packages can be very simple. We are not perfect and we have way too many missed assignments Saturday. We didn't just totally miss a guy, but we didn't execute the way we wanted it to be done. So, if that number gets escalated higher than we want it to be then maybe we need to change that play or throw it out of the offense. I don't think any of us want to rip pages out of the playbook, but at the same time we have to make sure that it doesn't get to thick."
"A confident team knows what they are doing and guys that know what they are doing play physical," Wilson Continued. "Guys that know what they are doing come running off the ball and play hard. However, when you get too many variables you get a little indecision, a little uncertainty and you are not as explosive or as dominant as you can be. We need to be dominating and physical up front, and we need to make sure on our end that we are giving our guys a chance. Our guys need to play more physical and harder up front and we have said that all along. We said that immediately to them after the game. We will also continue to look at what we do to give them a chance."
Again, the question comes up do the Sooners need to make changes up front? Is it not always that easy?
"I am not into wholesale changes and as long as I have been coaching that has never been the answer," said Wilson. "Davin Joseph and Abner Estrada are going to keep coming on and playing more. I think Davin has extremely high ability. There has to come a time when he should start seeing more time at right tackle. 'Skins' has been a starter for some time, but Joseph has reached the point that he has earned some playing time. We should also incorporate Fields into our offensive tackle rotation. However, Wes probably played the best game of the year Saturday. He got bull-rushed a couple of times by a guy that is a pretty good rusher, but in general his protection was pretty good. Actually, our problems came with some blitz pickups where a couple of times Nate made an adjustment to help the protection and we busted in picking them up."
"Wes had a good week of practice and I thought he prepared well," Wilson continued. "I know that people are after him thinking he should play better, but I really thought he had a better performance than from previous games. Wes is a perfect example of how we need to keep things for him that he can understand and develop. I know that all of our plays look good on paper, but we need to make sure that we can use them in a game. There are not a lot of grinding up offenses playing today that can just chew up 400 yards on the ground a game. We are trying to have ball control and keep the football a little bit with what we are doing. If we can continue to get a little more attitude and come up with some things that we can hang our hat on, then we can be a little more consistent with our offense."
"Don't forget we were without Mark Clayton in the game and that took something away from our game as well. We will get him back this week and we will work on protecting to get the ball to him and to Quentin, because Quentin can make some plays. He needs more touches in the passing game. We do have some playmakers. We just need to continue to find that physical attitude to make sure those playmakers can get the ball."
Again, Brad Davis has a sprained ankle, but should be back for Missouri. If isn't able to come back, then Chaisson will start in his place.
While the Sooners continues to try to find their true calling on offense they also continue to try to become more of a balanced offense. That is the way it is going to be, because they like the direction they are heading offensively.
"Hey, we like where we are going on offense," said Offensive Coordinator Chuck Long. "We don't feel we are too far away. We had some great moments in the South Florida game. We had three great drives and we had some big plays in those drives. It is a matter of developing some chemistry and consistency. We knew we had some youth going into the season and we are trying to get them to grow up fast. We feel we are on the right track. We like the future of that group and that group has made leaps since the beginning of spring ball."
"We have had two great weeks of practice and we are starting to feel real good about what we are doing," Long continued. "This is a game where we all felt we should have done better, including the team and those are good signs. We like where we are going and we are going to stay the course. We are taking big shots in the passing game. We had two good drives in the second quarter and another good drive in the third quarter. We come out again and take a couple of big shots. We missed a 70-yarder on the right sideline to Brandon Jones and we just missed another 40-yard touchdown to Curtis (Fagan). If we hit those plays we would blow the game wide open. We are not going to get conservative. We are going to continue to take those shots."
Another big concern for the Sooners is punter Blake Ferguson. Against South Florida Ferguson shanked several punts and finished with a 32.3 yard per punt average. Going into the game Ferguson was averaging 38.6 yards per punt, but his inconsistency has cost the Sooners field position.
"We just need him to punt the ball consistent," said Bob Stoops. "We need him to punt the ball the same way every time. If it is only for 38 yards we can live with that, but 50 here and then 20 there is not what we need. He has to step up and kick the ball consistently. Right now we are not getting that and we need that to control field position."
That is why the Sooners will try to sign a punter this year. Geoffrey Price/b] (6-3, 200) of Colleyville Heritage, Texas visited OU unofficially this weekend. Apparently the Sooners have offered him. He is also a starting free safety and a tremendous athlete, and the Sooners feel he can be a Jeff Ferguson type of punter for them.
I have been wondering for sometime if the Sooners would offer a punter and they will. It looks like they like Trey DiCenough that they are not in the market for a place kicker.
Darien Williams of North Mesquite, Texas visited the Sooners unofficially this weekend. He has been somewhat cool toward the Sooners, but this weekend warmed up to OU a great deal. Williams' teammate, Tarell Brown, did not come up with him.
For the last couple of weeks I reported that the Sooners would start using Renaldo Works and KeJuan Jones more and that was the case against South Florida. The Sooners used more two-back in this game with Renaldo and ‘Q' in the backfield together, and they even used the I-formation with KeJuan and J.D. Runnels as a regular formation in more than just short a short yardage set. Jones also lined up as the one-back in a two-tight end set around the 40 yard line of the Bulls.
However, that was just another disappointing effort by the OL, because Jones was dropped for a three-yard loss and never had a chance to get the first down.
Jones actually ended the game with 13 carries, six more than Griffin, for the game. However, since the OL struggled so much it really didn't matter who was carrying the ball.
The Sooners still ran mostly out of the one-back or spread formation, but they are beginning to shift away from it. OU is getting very little out of the one-back set, thus they are beginning to experiment with the two-back set and I-formation. Could the I-formation be the Sooners salvation for the running game?
How about true freshman J.D. Runnels catching a touchdown pass? Nobody deserved to catch a touchdown pass more than Runnels, because outside of Trent Smith, being a Sooner means more to Runnels than any other player on the team.
"I am just so happy right now that really I don't know what to say," Runnels said after the game. "When you grow up wanting to play for Oklahoma and then you score a touchdown playing for Oklahoma that is a dream come true. I know what my role is and I certainly didn't feel like I was going to score much this year or even once. I knew the play was open and felt that if they would throw it to me off of play action that I could get the ball into the end zone. The play was set up perfectly for me and I was able to get that touchdown. I will never forget that touchdown. I don't care if I score 100 more."
The Sooners played their 13th freshman in the game on Saturday when JeJuan Rankins was used at wide receiver. Why was Rankins thrust into the fourth game of the season.
"We think JeJuan has the type of ability to make big plays for us and we are missing that right now at wide receiver," said wide receiver coach Darrell Wyatt. "When we recruited JeJuan we knew that he has outstanding ability to make big plays in the open field. We have not been able to get enough of that thus far this season and so that is why we wanted to JeJuan on the field. JeJuan can be a difference maker for us and we are going to give him a chance to see what he can do."
Remember, I have always told you that Rankins is Bob Stoops' favorite. He can't say so publicly, but he sees a little Joe Washington in Rankins. I can't wait to see that.
Andre Woolfork missed the game on Saturday due to a sprained knee and if the Sooners can, they would like to hold him out of the Missouri game as well. A lot will depend on the progress of Micheal Hawkins this week. Hawkins played very well against South Florida and actually played so well that he played corner with Antonio Perkins moving back to strong safety in the Sooners' nickel package.
"Micheal had a great game for us and really is playing well," said co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Mike Stoops. "We just felt in the second half it was better to have the best athletes on the field that we could get. Matt McCoy wasn't playing bad, but Antonio has not played corner much this season and his technique was a little over. So, we were a better unit with Hawkins at corner and Perkins back at safety. Antonio can be a great corner and if I had to start a corner in a game where we didn't feel we would use our nickel much, then he would get work there all week and play really well. As it was, we couldn't do that last week and he had to split time at both positions and that was hard on him. Michael might get the start this week at corner if Andre can't play and we are not sure right now to play him or not."
Tommie Harris and Dusty Dvoracek are still not 100 percent, but both are getting better. Harris played at about 90 percent for the game, but didn't reinjure himself and he should be close 100 percent for Missouri. At this point Harris is more worried about the double and triple teams that he has been seeing.
Harris hasn't made as many big plays because he has been injured and he has seen two to three blockers every snap. This helps the other Sooner defenders, but still it is something that Harris has to overcome.
"I don't care how many guys are blocking me. I have to make the tackle or help my teammates make the tackle," said Harris. "I am not keeping my feel like I should and I can play a lot better. I am mad at myself now and I promise I am going to play better."
Watch out Missouri. Harris is mad and that can't be good for your rookie quarterback.
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