Oklahoma Preview: Offense

Sooners to bring a balanced spread attack to the Cotton Bowl on Saturday, courtesy of some versatile backfield talents.

Offensively, Oklahoma has always had more balance than your average spread team, and despite being one of the early Air Raid teams — remember, Mike Leach brought the Air Raid to OU as offensive coordinator before departing for Texas Tech — they've continued to push the bar in terms of offensive versatility. Of course, offensive coordinator Josh Heupel was Leach's Air Raid QB in Norman, and when they throw, they still display many of those same concepts. But thanks to two versatile players — quarterback Blake Bell and fullback Trey Millard — the Sooners can run a four-or-five-wide formation and still have the option to threaten the defense with the power run game.

So much of that comes from Bell (6-6 252), who spent the last two years as a powerful short-yardage threat. This year, Bell was originally beaten out by redshirt freshman Trevor Knight (6-1 201), who actually has more speed than Bell does. But Knight struggled to throw the ball, completing just 22-of-49 passes (44.9 percent) for 211 yards and four touchdowns to three picks. Bell, meanwhile, has a passer rating almost 60 points higher. Passing isn't considered Bell's strength, but that hasn't stopped him from completing 69.2 percent of his throws for 835 yards and six touchdowns to no picks. He doesn't throw a great deep ball, which helps the Longhorns out, but he has been pretty accurate on short-to-intermediate stuff … the kinds of throws that make up the bulk of the Oklahoma offense anyway. He set an OU starting debut record when he passed for 413 yards and four touchdowns against Tulsa.

He's also rushed 40 times for 175 yards, an average of 4.4 yards per carry. Perhaps most impressively, he's helped the team score 35.3 points per game in his three starts, despite playing pretty tough defensive competition in two of those games against Notre Dame and TCU. Part of that is him finding his way in the running game. Take out sack yardage, and Bell has rushed 23 times for 146 yards (6.3 yards per carry) in the last two weeks.

Bell's presence allows the Sooners to always have a running threat, even in an empty backfield look, but when he does have backs with him, they're pretty good ones. Damien Williams (5-11 211) entered the season as one of the Big 12's top backs, but he hasn't been as effective as Brennan Clay (5-11 201), who is listed as the starter this week. Clay has really come on of late, rushing for 77 yards on 14 carries against OU, and adding 111 yards on nine rushes against TCU. Included in that performance against the Horned Frogs was a 76-yard fourth quarter burst that sealed the game. He's on pace to rush for more than 1,000 yards this year. Williams is a bit thicker, but still boasts game-breaking speed, as evidenced by his 95-yard touchdown run against Texas last year. Roy Finch (5-7 165) is a jitterbug who comes in as a change of pace, and at times, he'll slide out to a receiver spot.

Then there's Millard (6-2 253) at fullback. If every player in the Big 12 were ranked by how they compared to other players at their position in the league, Millard would probably be the conference's top player — as far as fullbacks go, it's Millard, and it's not close. That's because he can do so many things exceptionally well. He can make an impact as a runner, a receiver and as a lead blocker. Because of those talents, Millard adds an extra dimension to the Oklahoma attack, the ability to be truly multiple in everything that the Sooners do. He hasn't seen the ball much, with just six carries and seven catches in five games, but the threat is always there. He also removes a lot of the need for a tight end … while former JUCO transfer Brannon Green (6-2 256) is listed as the starter at the position, Oklahoma's tight ends don't have a single catch this year.

That's also alleviated by a deep and talented receiving corps. Oklahoma has five wide receivers with at least six catches and 114 yards this year, and the Sooners aren't afraid to go five-wide to add problems for opposing defenses. The best of the bunch are probably the Sooners' two talented slot receivers in Jalen Saunders (5-9 157) and Sterling Shepard (5-10 193). Saunders missed the first several games last year after transferring from Fresno State, but was one of the league's best wideouts by season's end, and he leads the Sooners with 22 catches. But while Saunders hasn't really broken free from a big-play standpoint much this year — he's averaging 9.7 yards per catch — Shepard has shown a bit more there, catching 21 passes for a team-best 266 yards. Oklahoma will move those guys around some, and play them a bit on the outside at times. Lacoltan Bester (6-3 195) will rotate with Jaz Reynolds (6-2 198) at one outside spot, while Durron Neal (5-11 199) will get time at the other outside spot. The outside spots have had some inconsistency.

Oklahoma entered the 2013 season expected to have one of the Big 12's best offensive lines, and so far, they've been able to hold up that end of the bargain. The Sooners are averaging 5.3 yards per carry, and while they've allowed seven sacks, some of those can be attributed to quarterback indecision. Center Gabe Ikard (6-3 298) is the anchor, and he might be the best center in the country, though guards Adam Shead (6-4 316) and Bronson Irwin (6-5 314) certainly helped him deal with Louis Nix III, one of the top defensive tackle forces in the nation. Tyrus Thompson (6-5 320 and Daryl Williams (6-6 321) each have potential at their tackle spots.

Michael Hunnicutt (6-1 176) has been as efficient as they come as a kicker, making 12-of-13 field goals — with a long of 44 yards — and all 16 extra points. His lone miss was a 35-yarder in the season's second week. He hit 17-of-21 last year, including one run of 11 in a row. Clay is listed as the primary kick returner, though he has just one return for 20 yards. Fellow return man Roy Finch has two returns for 35 yards. Saunders can be a dangerous punt returner. He's averaging just under 11 yards per return, with a long of 45 yards on the season.


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