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The Oklahoma Offense: Was Last Year's Funk The New Normal?

In Oklahoma's first opportunity to prove that last year's offensive struggles are behind them, the Sooners did no such thing. Will the offense come around? Signs point to yes, but...

September 1, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Landry Jones (12) throws a pass in the first quarter against the UTEP Miners at Sun Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-US PRESSWIRE
September 1, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Landry Jones (12) throws a pass in the first quarter against the UTEP Miners at Sun Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-US PRESSWIRE

This weekend, Bob Stoops' 14th Oklahoma Sooners squad will likely decimate an out-manned (to put it lightly) Florida A&M at one of college football's greatest, loudest home venues. Quarterback Landry Jones will probably complete 18 to 20 passes for probably 200 to 250 yards, throw a couple of touchdown passes, leave the game in the third quarter and begin preparation for Kansas State's visit on Sept. 22, still in search of his first truly notable performance since last year's Kansas State game.

We often refer to cupcake games as tune-ups, and in the case of Oklahoma's game versus Florida A&M's Rattlers and their gorgeously odd color scheme, that description has never been more apt. The Oklahoma offense needs some tuning up in the worst way. It fell terribly out of sync at the end of last season following injuries to running back Dom Whaley and, far more notably, go-to receiver Ryan Broyles; late last Saturday night in El Paso, with a brand new cast of skill position characters, it basically looked the same.

Jones completed just 58 percent of his passes against what wasn't supposed to be (and probably isn't) a great UTEP defense. A line dealing with some fall camp injury issues -- two-year starting center Ben Habern had to retire with lingering neck issues, and two-year starting guard Evans will miss the season with a knee injury -- failed to immediately gel: Jones was sacked three times and forced to leave the pocket quickly under pressure numerous times. Meanwhile, Whaley looked timid and not yet 100 percent healthy, and new receivers Justin Brown (a late Penn State transfer) and Trey Metoyer (a five-star freshman) caught just eight of 15 balls for a meager 53 yards; each fumbled once, too.

Oklahoma's 2012 season, previewed in two minutes.

There were bright spots, of course. In the middle of the first quarter, Jones rolled left, found junior Kenny Stills wide open on the far right, set his feet and planted a perfect pass for a 68-yard touchdown. It was a play that showed awareness, patience and arm strength. And late in the game, junior college transfer Damien Williams broke off a 65-yard touchdown run to give the Sooners a cushion they were without for much of the game.

Beyond that, the defense looked lovely in defensive coordinator Mike Stoops' first game back on staff. UTEP gained just 255 yards, 71 on a single run, while UTEP quarterback Nick Lamaison completed just six of 23 passes for 39 yards and was sacked twice. And the special teams unit looked strong, too; punter Tress Way averaged 46.4 yards over seven punts and had four downed inside the 20, while Brown ripped off a 26-yard punt return at one point. Making tons of stops and winning the field position battle can quite obviously make an offense's job quite a bit easier.

In all, we probably should have expected to see a kinked-up offense in El Paso late last Saturday night. The most proven running back is still working his way back toward full strength, and the line is not only dealing with inexperience, but dealing with more inexperience than expected. And the receiving corps is almost entirely new. Of Jones' 36 pass attempts a full half of them were to newcomers.

Oklahoma Targets And Catches Versus UTEP
(Newcomers in Bold)
Name Targets Catches Yards Yds/Tgt
Kenny Stills 9 6 121 13.4
Trey Metoyer 9 4 21 2.3
Justin Brown 6 4 32 5.3
Dom Whaley 5 3 1 0.2
Trey Millard 3 2 19 6.3
Brannon Green 2 1 18 9.0
Brennan Clay 1 1 10 10.0
Taylor McNamara 1 0 0 0.0
TOTAL 36 21 222 6.2
TOTAL (Newcomers) 18 9 71 3.9

Whatever this offense is capable of in 2012, we should have in no way expected to see the ceiling immediately. As the line gels, as Whaley gets his footing again (or is overtaken by Williams), and as Jones gets more time to build a rapport with Brown, Metoyer, and possibly four-star freshmen like Durron Neal and Sterling Shepard, good things could happen.

(Good things could also happen if H-back Trey Millard finally begins to touch the ball more. But that is a well-covered topic in Norman.)

Still, the OU offense looked shaky in such a familiar way that it is impossible not to be rather concerned. The Sooners fell from fourth to fifth in the AP polls -- a rarity after a win -- and barely looked the part of even a Top 15-20 squad. It was so uninspiring that a good blogger friend of mine, Blatant Homerism's Allen Kenney, with whom I've often laughed about ridiculously angry fans, was using words like "apologists" to somewhat mock those who would downplay how poor the Sooners' overall performance actually was. He has since come back around on his Sooners, pointing out that a lot of great OU teams had iffy early performances, but at this point the burden of proof is on the Sooners to show that their performance from late last season was an aberration, and not the new normal.

Reacting to a single game can so often make you feel foolish. Oklahoma could hang 70 points and 700 yards on Florida A&M, then reprise last year's near-perfect performance in Manhattan when Kansas State comes to town. They could get their revenge on Texas Tech in Lubbock on Oct. 6 and head Dallas to face Texas as a legitimate Top 2-3 team. By then, all of the hand wringing about the Sooners' ghastly first three quarters in El Paso could feel pretty silly. But in their first opportunity to prove last year's struggles are behind them, they did no such thing. And it is probably also silly to simply assume the offense will come around in 2012. There is a lot to like on paper, but that was the case last year, too.

For more on OU football, visit Oklahoma blog Crimson And Cream Machine.

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