Sooners have the parts to put offense back on track
Kingsley Burns, The Oklahoma Daily
During last Saturday’s 24-19 letdown loss to Kansas State, Sooner nation watched an opponent come into Oklahoma Memorial Stadium and beat the at-time sixth-ranked Sooners.
There were several areas of the Sooner performance that attributed to the loss, including three pivotal turnovers that kept points off OU’s side of the scoreboard.
This week, Oklahoma gets its last idle week of the 2012 season before lumbering deeper into Big 12 conference action, and quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel said the offense needs to find its identity before going up against Texas Tech on Oct. 6.
“In college football, your team’s identity and personality changes,” Heupel said. “We made some mistakes, but there were some things we did right, and (I’m) absolutely excited to see how we’re going to keep making strides and (figure out) who we’re going to become.”
One way the Sooners can complete their metamorphosis into a high-powered offense is finding players that consistently perform well on Saturdays, Heupel said.
“We have to find a way to put skilled guys in position to be successful, and we have to out the guys that are going to do their job on a consistent basis and take care of the football,” he said. “We also haven’t been as consistent as we want to be in the passing game.”
And the Sooners have several players on the depth chart with the potential to come together and form a well-oiled, point-scoring machine.
Freshman receiver Sterling Shepard made his case for a starting position after posting 108 receiving yards and a touchdown against KSU. The local standout from Heritage Hall was named OU’s player of the game following his first collegiate start, and if his high school stats — 1,243 yards and 17 receiving touchdowns in his senior season — are any indication of how threatening he can be, OU may have found its future star receiver.
Junior wide receiver Kenny Stills picked up where he left off last year and already is averaging about 100 receiving yards per game, including a whopping 13.7 yards per catch. His two touchdowns this year suggest he will eclipse last season’s career-high eight touchdowns, but as a veteran receiver on this Sooner offense that adds three newcomers to the wide receiver corps, his successful performance isn’t surprising.
For OU’s running game, it looked like the Sooners would be able to utilize their run game and disrupt the pass rush better with the return of senior running back Dominique Whaley. As the starter through the first three outings, Whaley has 168 rushing yards, averaging 5.6 yards a carry, enough to be third on OU’s total offense list this season.
But then, junior running back Damien Williams exploded for 156 yards and five touchdowns on the ground against Florida A&M, giving OU another offensive weapon in its arsenal.
However, even with these potential playmakers, the team failed to convert and put points on the board against a quality KSU defense, causing more criticism than congratulations.
“That’s fair for them,” Heupel said about the fans’ negative reaction to the loss. “But that’s also why you want to coach at a place like Oklahoma: the people around here care.”
And OU still has the lion’s share of its 2012 schedule coming up, giving the team plenty of time to get the scoring train back on track. It will be important for this team to get over the loss mentally and focus on moving forward through the conference schedule, something the Sooners said they are committed to do during this bye week.
“When you come off a loss, you have to come back with some fire,” Shepard said. “Nobody’s being lackadaisical, and everyone’s flying around out there on practice. We have to correct our mistakes. That game (against KSU) is over, and at the end of the day, we are going to fight to get a ‘W.’”
And more importantly, the team also realizes one loss doesn’t derail the Sooners from the ultimate goal: playing in a big postseason game.
“Typically, every year there is a team in that race (for the national championship) with one loss,” senior quarterback Landry Jones said. “There usually are (teams) with one loss who get into that game and play really well. We are still in it, and all of our goals are still out in front of us.”