By John Shinn
CNHI News Service
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Oklahoma has an opportunity today at Kansas that goes well beyond simply winning, and it’s a chance to do something that will pay off throughout the rest of the season.
What No. 18 OU (5-1, 2-1 Big 12) needs to do against the Jayhawks (2-3, 0-2) at 2:30 p.m. today inside Memorial Stadium is re-establish its offensive identity.
Nothing from the offense has been junked since last Saturday’s loss to Texas. Changes like that are rarely made in the middle of the season.
“You don’t come up with a new offense every week. We never have. No, you just try and iron things out and make them better and smoother and block them better and execute better,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “But no, we’re not designing new structures all the time.”
The Sooners don’t need to. They know what they have after six games. A quick look at the season statistics and it gets even easier. Any team that’s averaging 5.2 yards per rush attempt is a running team.
Even in the loss to Texas, the Sooners still ran the ball effectively. Six different ball carriers averaged better than 4.6 yards per carry.
It’s been that way all season. But is OU ready at the midway point of the regular season to say that running the ball with its deep pool of running backs is its bread and butter?
“I still think we’re about smash-mouth football. We’re a team that’s been able to run the ball,” running back Brennan Clay said. “Teams are starting to load the box on us and coming at us a little bit more with the blitzes and everything. But once we establish our run game, I don’t think anybody can slow us down.”
The Sooners failed to get it going against Texas. Once it found itself trailing by more than two touchdowns in the second half, the running game went out the window.
OU didn’t have that problem in its first five games.
Establishing its running game promptly should be the goal today. Quarterback Blake Bell has struggled throwing the ball, getting open has been an issue for receivers and the offensive line has labored trying to protect its quarterback on third down.
Establshing a go-to running game should be the easiest way to solve third-down woes. And after converting just 5 of 26 third downs in its last two games, there should be a premium on getting it established.
“The trickle down when you’re having those inconsistencies is we’ve been inefficient on third down,” Stoops said. “We’ve been unable to pick those up. We’ve got to do a better job.
“I thought with the running backs in the run game, I thought we ran it really well (against Texas). We’ve got to be in a position to run it more and play-action more. Hopefully, it will limit the third-and-longs we get in.”
When OU isn’t in third-and-long situations, it has shown the making of a pretty good offense. But that revolves around pounding away with the running game early in games and letting things build from there.
“As long as everyone just kinds of gets in a rhythm that’s what we’ve been practicing this week and what we’re striving for,” Bell said.
The Sooners have already shown they have the ability to stay out of those difficult offensive situations. They’ve established an offensive identity. Today, they need to embrace it. They can no longer afford to throw it away.