A year ago, it was Rodney Anderson uttering the unthinkable, saying Oklahoma’s offense wouldn’t take one step back despite losing a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback.
Actually, Anderson went further, saying the Sooner offense would be better “any way you want to measure it.”
He even downplayed his own importance as a running back, saying, “I feel like we could put anybody out there and have the same production.”
Was he right?
Well, he wasn’t wrong.
Last season, Kyler Murray’s Heisman season, OU averaged 48.4 points, 570.3 yards from scrimmage and 247.4 on the ground. The year before it was 45.1, 579.6 and 217.8.
Call it a wash, but the spirit of what Anderson said was legit. Baker Mayfield departed and the Sooner offense did not step back.
This time, speaking at Big 12 football media days in Arlington, Texas, on Monday, the head coach was saying it.
It began with a terrific question, to which Lincoln Riley, thankfully, did not answer, “Next question.”
Here was the question.
“I assume your offense is going to dip. Can your defense arise more than your offense might slip?”
“We don’t plan on the offense dipping,” Riley said, before pivoting to defense: expectations are high, they made coaching changes for a reason, they’ve recruited that side of the ball hard, blah, blah, blah.
Others may take issue with Riley saying something that couldn’t possibly be true.
Like, at least last season, it was a starting quarterback entirely familiar with the system, but you can’t expect that from a guy who was at Alabama last year.
They might be right.
Or, folks could side with Riley, which would also mean treating the question like it’s morning sports television, coming up with their best or dumbest Bayless-Whitlock-Stephen A.-Kellerman take, “best and dumbest” quite possibly being the same thing.
Or, maybe, everybody could realize the truth, that it doesn’t matter if the offense does or doesn’t “dip,” that it doesn’t really matter if it averages more than 500 yards from scrimmage, more than 200 on the ground or 300 in the air.
What might matter, however, is the ratio of drives that turn into points and the ratio of points scored that come six at a time rather than three.
Because if the Sooner defense really is better, Riley might not have to coach like an offensive coordinator with his hair on fire. Or, it just might happen that Jalen Hurts is just as efficient a quarterback, turns drives into TDs at the same rate, yet maybe the Sooners don’t gain an insane 8.6 yards per snap like they did last season or 8.3 like they did the year before.
Heck, maybe they average 6.8, like they did in 2015, the last time Riley or his quarterback were in their first year on campus.
Incidentally, that season, Baker Mayfield’s first as a starter and Riley’s first in Norman, the Sooners finished thinking they belonged in the College Football Playoff with a defense that allowed 364.5 yards per game and 4.8 per snap.
A year ago, those numbers were 453.8 and 6.1.
What many fail to get is that just a little defense will go a long way. Just being middle of the pack in the conference could be a revolution.
Also, more defense might keep the Sooner offense off the field, because more defense might allow a couple opponent first downs followed by a punt and that takes some time.
Too often the last couple of seasons, OU got the ball right back because the opponent scored as fast as it did.
The stories defenders told in the spring reverberate still. Average days are not tolerated. A shift has occurred.
It’s interesting because nobody thought Mike Stoops had become less demanding. More, the thought was, players must have been tuning him out. Really, how much fire and brimstone can a unit take?
Now, it’s a picture of Stoops simply becoming tired, less detail-oriented, less focused himself. He would probably disagree. Or maybe not. Whatever, believe it, those things can happen with the volume up or down.
So here we are.
Will the offense dip?
Will OU not drop a game it shouldn’t, will both sides of the ball work in tandem, will one side of the ball not have to make up for the deficiencies of the other side, or both other sides, because it’s been a long time since Antonio Perkins or Jalen Saunders brought a punt back to the house?
These are the questions.
Answers will be forthcoming.