By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
NORMAN – Everything lines up for 2013 to be a transitional season for Oklahoma. Installing a new quarterback is part of it, but there also seems to be a shift afoot in the Sooners’ offensive philosophy.
The Sooners want to run the ball more. How much more is the dangling question.
Becoming a running team would be a radical departure from OU’s tendencies the previous four seasons. From 2009-2012, the Sooners threw the ball more than they ran it. During the 2009 and 2010 seasons, OU passed it at least 51 percent of the time.
Since Josh Heupel took over at offensive coordinator in 2011, the gap has grown. OU threw it 56 percent of the time in 2011. Last season, it was 57 percent – one of the highest percentages of the Bob Stoops Era.
Of course, there were reasons for a pass-centric scheme. Landry Jones certainly wasn’t going to run with the ball – intentionally. Also, the Sooners had a very deep group of receivers each season and an athletic offensive line.
Whatever plays are called are dictated by the personnel. For the first time since OU had Demarco Murray and Chris Brown, with Mosis Madu spelling them both in 2008, it actually has depth at running back. Damien Williams, Brennan Clay, Roy Finch and fullback Trey Millard have all shown the ability to make good things happen with the ball in their hands.
“I think we’re fortunate. We have four guys that carry the ball, have taken good care of the ball for the most part, been highly efficient and effective and have had explosive plays,” Heupel said. “… All those guys need touches because they’ve played effectively. They’re experienced.”
Redshirt freshman Alex Ross and true freshman Keith Ford keep drawing raves from teammates due to their efforts on the practice field.
Throw in the running ability of quarterback Blake Bell and all signs point to OU becoming a much more grounded offense this season.
Heupel won’t shed any light on what direction he wants to go, but continues to say it is up to OU’s players. The offensive coordinator said OU entered the 2012 preseason striving to become a better running team.
Injuries along the offensive line and experience issues at tight end quickly scuttled the plan.
“That’s just with all the injuries we had. We basically lost three linemen that were going to play a lot of football. Two starters, I believe, before the third day of practice,” Heupel said. “So we changed dramatically in the blink of an eye.”
In August of 2013, things appear to be different. The offensive line is healthy and deeper than its been in years. The edict for new offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh has been to build a group that can put games away by wearing down defenses.
“I do believe the size and strength that those guys have gained during the offseason, the depth that we had at some of those positions, is creating a competitive scenario where I think we will be tougher and more physical, and be able to run the ball more efficiently consistently,” Heupel said.