Can Oklahoma’s offense rebound against Texas?


Authors Note: In place of a GIF Study following Oklahoma’s loss to TCU, I take a look at what Oklahoma’s offense failed to do against the Horned Frogs, and how they can correct it moving forward. 

Ten weeks ago, I published my debut post on, previewing the Oklahoma Sooners offense for 2014. It was a fun article to write, because it was exciting to think about the many possibilities that Josh Heupel had at his disposal. In that preview and in GIF studies since then, I’ve thrown words around like “versatile”, “explosive”, or “limitless” to describe the OU offense.

We haven’t seen any of those qualities since the Keith Ford injury.

It seems like Heupel has gotten less and less creative with his offensive game plan each week, becoming more conservative as the opponents got tougher. Through four games, the offense was predicated on swing passes like this:

Not only did OU run swing passes out of that formation and others, but they used the running back in motion to identify coverages, make reads, and expose the defense. After Ford went down, Oklahoma has completely abandoned that play. This doesn’t particularly make a whole lot of sense, especially considering that Alex Ross had arguably been just as big of a part of the swing pass offense as Ford had been.

The emergence of Samaje Perine during the West Virginia game certainly helped, but Oklahoma would prefer to use a speedier runner out in space and have Perine punish defenders between the tackles. Still, the Sooners must have someone capable of catching a swing pass even if the coaches believe that Ross and Perine can’t.

Playing to Oklahoma’s Strengths

My biggest complaint following the 37-33 loss at TCU was that Heupel and the other coaches failed miserably to construct a game plan that would put OU’s players in a position to be successful. It’s easy to look at Trevor Knight’s 14-35 line and talk about how bad he played, but here’s the thing: TK9 is a better QB than that, even on his worst day. The problem here largely didn’t have to do with Knight, aside from a few off target throws and a bad decision to take a sack at the end of the first half. A few bad throws is not what produces a 40% completion percentage.

It’s also easy to forget that Knight is just a sophomore (he’ll be appearing in his 14th career game already on Saturday) and that he still has plenty of growing to do as a quarterback. It’s permissible for fans to lose sight of reality every once in awhile, especially after his Sugar Bowl performance last January. But it was disappointing to see the offensive coordinator ask so much of Knight when he has a multitude of other young, explosive options surrounding a relatively inexperienced QB.

I’ve said this before in previous columns, but Oklahoma is finally in a position where it

absolutely should not

doesn’t have to rely on its QB. Unfortunately Oklahoma’s WR’s have not played up to snuff so far; Jordan Smallwood and Michiah Quick have been non-existant while Durron Neal and KJ Young have done little to backup Sterling Shepard. Still, OU has a pair of  playmakers at the RB position in Perine and Ross as well as a TE in Blake Bell that has shown flashes of potential.

With those weapons, it’s silly to ask TK9 to throw the ball down field 35 times per game. Against TCU, if it wasn’t going to  Shepard for a big gain, it probably wasn’t getting caught. That has to change against Texas and moving forward, because it will become too easy for teams to key in on Shepard and ignore guys like Neal and Young.

Alex Ross and Durron Neal

It’s pretty simple: if Oklahoma is going to win out, Alex Ross has to do better. After Ross’ electrifying TD run (but otherwise lack-luster performance against Tulsa), it was obvious that Ross was much more of a playmaker than a true running back. He goes down easier than he should for a guy that runs as hard as he seems to, he doesn’t have great vision inside or outside the tackles, and his patience for his blockers has been abysmal at times this season. But as long as Ford is out, Ross is Oklahoma’s only viable outside-the-tackle runner.

Ross has the ability to change around Oklahoma’s entire offensive identity with his combination of size, speed, and skill. I think he is a weapon that Heupel hasn’t quite figured out how to use yet, which isn’t all on Ross; it’s the coaches responsibility to call the right plays for the right players. But for now, Ross is just a great kick returner who is easily neutralized. Not to beat a dead horse, but the swing pass would seemingly fit Ross’ skill set very well. He becomes a down-hill runner with a full head of steam, and all he has to do is make one cut to make a defender miss and he has a huge gain.

It’s bold prediction time: I think we see the reintroduction of the swing pass against Texas, whether it’s with Ross or one of Oklahoma’s other talented backs in the stable. I don’t have any inside scoop, it just seems like it’s time. The swing pass accomplishes everything that the offense has been lacking since the Tennessee game: it takes pressure off of Knight, it puts playmakers in space with the ball, and it makes the defense think twice about loading the box to a particular side. It just makes sense.

As far as Durron Neal goes, he is another player that will have to do better if Oklahoma is going to run the table from here on out. I have the same amount of touchdowns as Durron Neal does this season, and only 21 fewer receptions. That’s not good considering he’s been Oklahoma’s clear no. 2 receiver in an offense that throws the ball more than 30 times per game.

Neal’s involvement (or lack-there-of) is something that has been addressed by the coaches, most recently after the loss to TCU. Stoops and Heupel have both talked about finding ways to get the ball into his hands, but only time will tell if they actually follow through. Either way, someone will have to step up in order to take pressure off of Knight and Shepard.

Until further notice, Oklahoma’s offense will be best served by turning Trevor Knight into a distributor rather than a playmaker. An increased role for Durron Neal, the reemergence of the swing pass, smarter play from Alex Ross, and the utilization of Blake Bell would accomplish that and more.