Oklahoma’s Josh Heupel Problem


It’s no secret that Oklahoma has been disappointing on all fronts this season in just about every phase of the game- three losses before Thanksgiving isn’t exactly what Sooner fans had in mind after the way last season ended.

While the OU defense has obviously had its fair share of struggles, I’m not worried about that unit long term. Mike Stoops is a proven coach and it would be foolish to hope that the heavily-criticized DC is on his way out of town. But on the offensive side of the ball, it’s a different story.

Josh Heupel saved his job during Oklahoma’s final three games a year ago, registering wins at Kansas State, at Oklahoma State, and in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama. As we all know, Heupel was brilliant during that stretch after appearing to have been stuck on the “Ask Madden” function for much of the regular season.

Heupel maintained that brilliance through the Tennessee game, flashing Oklahoma’s depth and versatility against the Volunteers, Louisiana Tech, and Tulsa. But as the weeks wore on, the offense became less consistent. It wasn’t just the results that were worrisome- it was the lack of identity in the offense.

For the first three games of the season, Heupel ran an offense that, in my opinion, is what his personnel is most suited for. It was a scheme that was predicated on getting the ball in space to his play makers, using QB Trevor Knight merely as a distributor rather than relying on him to play from the pocket or on the run. This involved the use of swing passes, miss directions, and WR screens, among other things.

But starting RB Keith Ford got injured during the Tennessee game, so Heupel opted to completely abandon the offense that had been more than optimal through three games.

With Samaje Perine as the feature back, Heupel went to a power running game against West Virginia. The true freshman bailed him out, totaling more than 200 yards on the ground and multiple scores. Against TCU, Heupel decided to run an air-raid offense against one of the better secondaries in the Big 12. OU put up 31 points the following week against Texas, but only 17 came from the offense after Heupel failed again to set an identity.

Against the Wild Cats on homecoming, Heupel actually had what I believe was his best game since the Sugar Bowl. OU had over 500 yards of total offense and they used Knight in a very intelligent way. But even so, Heupel made mistakes (out route on OU’s own goal line, three straight up-the-middle runs in the fourth, ect). Against Iowa State, the coaches finally cut Knight loose and showed the QB run game that fans have been clamoring for since August.

I don’t need to talk about the Baylor game, do I? Good. And then again at Texas Tech, it was back to the power run game in the second half after Heupel called more pass plays than run plays in the first half on the road against the worst run defense in the Big 12 with a backup QB. To put it simply, Samaje Perine bailed out the Sooners yet again in Lubbock.

It’s not just the lack of an identity, though. Heupel has also shown incompetence in his play calling by completely ignoring on his team’s strengths and relying on their weaknesses. Trevor Knight can’t throw the ball down field 25 times like he did against TCU because that’s not the kind of player that he is. That’s not the player that he was recruited to be, either.

Running with Alex Ross up the middle makes about as much sense as handing the ball off to me and telling me to go off tackle. OU’s best lineman (allegedly) are its tackles, yet Heupel has consistently chosen to run the ball inside, whether it’s working or not. And while some of that is to wear the defense down, the same can be accomplished by running off tackle with Perine, Ross, or Ford.

Josh Heupel is a problem that isn’t going away. I say that because of Stoops’ reluctance to fire coordinators in the past. Also because Heupel’s salary of $605,000 this season places him among the highest paid coordinators in the country. But rest assured, until Heupel is out of Norman, Oklahoma’s offense will lack the consistency and continuity that it takes to win at the highest level.