Oklahoma football: No Dede Westbrook? No problem

NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 02: Tight end Grant Calcaterra
NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 02: Tight end Grant Calcaterra /

The biggest problem the Oklahoma football team appears to have at the wide receiver position, now one game into the 2017 season, is selecting the best combination at the right time and circumstance from the talented and deep group of receivers to choose from.

When a quality quarterback is provided time and protection to see the field and pick out open receivers, it generally does not result in a good outcome for the team on defense.

On Saturday in the season opener against UTEP (University of Texas-El Paso), 14 different Sooner receivers caught passes from Baker Mayfield and two other OU quarterbacks. Tight end Mark Andrews caught seven passes for 134 yards and a touchdown in just two quarters of action. And newcomer Jeff Badet hauled in four passes, one for a 51-yard gain (shades of Dede Westbrook).

“He’s almost 260 pounds (and stands 6-foot-5) and he’s moving well,” Mayfield said about his big tight end Andrews after the game on Saturday. “I have to get him the ball. He’s going to make competitive plays.”

The same number of Sooner receivers caught passes throughout the course of last season, but close to one-third of the 271 pass receptions made a year ago were by one receiver: Dede WestbrookMore than 50 percent of the receptions were made by three Sooners, all of whom — Westbrook (80), Joe Mixon (37) and Geno Lewis (32) —  are gone this season.

“Dede (Westbrook) last year was a special breed, but I think Jeff Badet and Marquise Brown are comparable.” OU QB Baker Mayfield talking about this season’s receiving corps

Numbers are not an issue with the OU receiving corps this season. There are a plenty of receivers on board, and the group doesn’t lack for talent. What makes the Sooner passing game doubly dangerous is the ability of the Sooner running backs, all of whom are fast and sturdy on their feet, to make catches out of the backfield.

Three OU backs were on the receiving end of passes on Saturday (shades of Mixon). Abdul Adams had a 34-yard gain on a catch, and highly touted  junior-college transfer Marcelias Sutton picked up 21 yards on a reception. This could be an important weapon against Ohio State this weekend, when the Sooners will face arguably the best defensive front on college football. Mayfield will need to get rid of the ball quicker than he did against UTEP, and having the running backs as receiving outlets enables him to do so and provided additional options when faced with a heavy pass rush or forced to scramble outside of the pocket.

Not to be overlooked in this scenario is the threat provided by senior fullback Dimitri Flowers, who the Sooner are expected to utilize in a more hands-on fashion in the offensive attack this season, much like the roles of Trey Millard and Aaron Ripkowski in season’s past. Flowers had an 18-yard reception on Saturday and a five-yard run for a touchdown.

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Dede Westbrook was unworldly last season in his skill and breakaway speed that enabled him to literally run away from defenders and make catches on deep balls as well as his sure-handedness on possession downs.

A pair of newcomers to the Sooner receiving unit, Badet and sophomore junior-college transfer Marquise Brown, showed flashes of Westbrook-like ability in the season opener.

“Dede last year was a special breed,” Mayfield said, “but I think Jeff Badet and Marquise Brown are comparable. They’re a completely different kind of receiver. They can run so you have to let the ball go early.”

One game, and especially one against a nonconference foe that offered only a minimal challenge to a team like Oklahoma, is hardly enough evidence to form a valid analysis of the Oklahoma passing game.

It is highly doubtful that Mayfield will complete 19 of 20 pass attempts on a regular basis (although keep in mind that he led all FBS [Football Bowl Subdivision] teams last season and set a new NCAA record with a passing efficiency rating of 196.4) and that 14 different OU receiving target will make catches in a game. The fact that it did happen, however, is something you cannot entirely dismiss.

Next: OU Football: What we know now that we didn't before

The game this Saturday with Ohio State will be a true indicator of just how good this group of talented but unproven receivers really is. It certainly helps having one of the best quarterbacks in the game this season throwing you the ball.