By Clay Horning
CNHI News Service
NORMAN — It’s unclear just what’s been behind Josh Heupel’s gameday struggles since his elevation to co-offensive coordinator and play-caller.
Perhaps he has struggled to see the game through Landry Jones’ eyes rather than only his own.
Perhaps, as a dropback passer lacking outsized physical talent but able to see plays develop in front of him a beat or two faster than everybody else, he has tended to draw up game plans that would have worked terrifically for the 2000 Sooners but not so much for the 2011 and 2012 Sooners.
Perhaps Heupel has been influenced by Mike Leach to a fault, because Leach was going to keep doing what he was doing, consequences be damned. Asking Leach to run clock or the ball tended to be futile inquiries; and that remains the best insight as to why OU simply refused to run the ball in Stillwater last season.
You must coordinate the offense you have (against the defense you’re playing), not the one you wish.
Heupel, though, is on a roll.
One game, but it counts.
Today is his chance to prove his development has legs, whether it’s the continuation of the increasingly physical and sped-up Sooners, an offense that knows its run-game batting order, willing to use its running backs in the passing game, or one that’s still building, adding new wrinkles on top of recent wrinkles.
What it can’t be is an offense that beats its head against the wall.
Scoring points isn’t enough.
Last year’s Texas Tech loss is the best example. OU lit the scoreboard, eventually, when talent and desperation came together for one crazy flourish. But the game was lost early, when OU, directionless, went nowhere.
There have been two trailblazing Stoops era offensive minds at OU: Leach and Kevin Wilson. And there have been two who did very well with the tools available: Mark Mangino and Chuck Long.
It would be fun to believe Heupel has a suppressed mad scientist inside him, like Leach, or that he walks in tune to the busy, frenetic and easily bored disposition of Wilson, whose never-a-dull-moment offensive symphonies could be more than even the band could bear. But Heupel’s best bet, it would seem, is to follow in the tradition of Mangino and Long, making the most of what he has as well as he can.
Mangino had Huepel for the 2000 national championship run, as well as the retrospective influence of Leach. Long had Jason White and Adrian Peterson, an embarrassment of riches. On the way to the 2004 BCS national championship game, Long actually held the offensive reins back, the better to condition the troops to prevail when times turned tough.
Heupel has Jones, a line that that keeps taking hits, talent out wide, though it’s short on experience, and a bullpen of good runners, though it’s unclear how good.
It’s no picnic.
He must do more than stay out of the way. He must scheme, make the right call and hope his players bail him out when he doesn’t.
Gameplans may be overrated, for everything happens on the field, but a week ago he seemed to have one and it made all the difference in the world.
Heupel needs to do it again.
Clay Horning writes for the Norman Transcript.