We all saw, heard or know of the heart-wrenching loss of Ryan Broyles. There goes a HUGE chunk of the Oklahoma offense. This is not something that can be argued. True, he was always open and good for 10-15 catches PER GAME. Yes, Ryan was Landry's security blanket. Those pieces are gone. They simply must be replaced. I'm not here to say it will be easy. Nor am I even contemplating that it can't be done.
But, where we go from here is, at this point, the one and only thing that needs to be addressed. Ryan Broyles, as much as we all love him, is NOT the entire Oklahoma Sooners football team. There are other players on the roster (very talented players at that) and other games left on the schedule. Simply put, it is time for the rest of the boys to step up and move on...
I'll warn you right now, this is going to be a long read. Feel free to read all of it, parts of it, or none of it. These are just some thoughts I have bouncing around in the ole skull.
Onward and upward, boys!
This team is still loaded with talent. They are. It is an undeniable fact, even for those of us that have a much darker optimism than others (yes, this is directed at yours truly...and the other know who they are! LOL). What is going to need to happen is that other guys are going to have to seriously step up their game. There are a number of guys that are already performing admirably for this OU squad. Those admirable performances are going to have to become great performances. They will have to perform this way EVERY WEEK; no more hit or miss.
I'm going to go through a list of guys that fit this criteria and explain what they need to do (from MY point of view). There may be arguments to this, but it's just how I see things. The one thing on which all of us can agree is that there needs to be serious consistent application of the talent that runs rampant on this squad.
Landry Jones - We all know what "Good Landry" can do. Unfortunately, we've also all seen what "Bad Landry" can do. The big point of contention on this guy comes at the tough to distinguish line between the two. Bottom line, Landry now has less room for error than ever. He must be sharp consistently and must minimize the appearances of his evil alter ego. With younger, less established WRs, balls need to be in their numbers or face masks to increase the chances of a catch. Landry has to show that pinpoint accuracy, flawless footwork and precision progression reading that are right now just flashes of brilliance. Never before has so much been riding on his shoulders. I think he can do it, but Heupel is going to have to get the iron good and hot to work out some wrinkles.
Kenny Stills - There can be no questioning of the ability of Kenny Stills. The guy makes insane plays and is a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses. The knock on Kenny is that he tends to disappear, with increasing frequency. Kenny simply must up his game and become that true #1 WR that we all know he can be. He can no longer "tap out" every three or four plays. He has to start getting to balls that he might think are uncatchable. He needs to stop "quitting" on routes and throws and develop Broyles-like work ethic. I love Kenny Stills and the skills he possesses. Simply put, he needs to be more like Broyles and less like Malcolm Kelly; more consistent and subdued, less flash and diva.
Jaz Reynolds & DeJuan Miller - It's time for these two to figure it out already. They have both showed flashes of brilliance during their OU careers, but neither has consistently performed at a high level. Both have proven to be nearly impossible to cover, but yet suffer from the dropsies on well-thrown balls. Both are really athletic freaks; tall, rangy, fast with huge hands while still being very strong and tough to bring down. The biggest problem I see is the inconsistency in catching the football. Jaz makes AMAZING catches, don't get me wrong. Three one-handed, impossible grabs in two weeks. However, he has also shown that maybe that's all he can make. The ones in his mitts aren't challenging enough? Bottom line; consistency from these two really opens up the field and presents match-up issues across the board.
Offensive Line - These guys have really been extraordinary in pass protection this year. Four or five sacks at this point in the season is really special. Yet, they are going to have to step up their game, collectively, as well. OU can no longer afford to be weak in the run game. We are going to need to create larger holes (creases don't cut it anymore) and be even more stout in passing situations. The blocking becomes more important because younger, less-experienced WRs will likely take longer to get open and find the holes in coverages. This unit has been remarkable for two seasons now in the passing game. Time to get our "mean" on and bust up some people in the run game as well.
Tight Ends - Alright Hanna and Ratterree, time to earn your keep. These guys simply must be a larger part of the OU passing game. They are the underneath guys now. They are responsible for making the truly tough catches and moving the chains over the middle. Hanna specifically has to be more consistent. When he's on, James Hanna is one of the best TEs in college football. He is fast, strong, athletic and has great hands. However, his inconsistencies cause him to drop balls that should be caught and cough up fumbles that absolutely KILL this team (case-in-point the first quarter drive on Saturday). OU need the Tight Ends more than ever right now. Time to step up, guys.
The "Fringe" Players - I call these guys "fringe players". I don't do this because they are not important, but rather because I see them as peripheral in this offense in that they all have smaller, shared roles that are not necessarily front and center. The guys included here are guys like Finch, Bell, Franks, Williams and Millard. These guys are all very important to the OU offense, but see fairly limited touches (I know Finch sees quite a few, but he likely should see fewer to save his body). These limited touches now must become "game changers". Guys like this have to be an immediate impact when the touch the ball from here on out.
- No more tripping over your own feet, Trey. Pick em up and run, son! OU needs Franks to step it up in the "getting open" department as well. Time for more, bud.
- Williams MUST develop his vision, see the creases and trust the blocking schemes. When this clicks for him, he is going to be an unreal asset to this team. Slow your brain down, Brandon. Find the hole and hit it hard; no more dancing.
- Blake Bell needs more reps. As he gets them, he needs to stop putting his eyes down and start looking for ways to make players miss to gain more yards. He also needs to calm down when asked to throw and find the open man (a la Broyles on Saturday). Again, this all comes with game reps.
- Lastly from this list, Finch and Millard. We know that these guys are proven commodities. Finch needs to NOT be run into the ground, but must develop a bit better patience at times and work on seeing the creases and reading his blockers. As for Millard...what else can I say besides, "Give the MAN the rock!" Millard can become that short yardage back that can hammer 3 to 5 yards on the power play. Ripkowski has proven to be a decent blocker; get him in there and let him blast some people for Trey.
Honestly, OU fans, I think if all these guys step up their game, even a little bit, this team has every bit of the chance to do GREAT things. The only question is, "will they?" The coaches are not exempt. All of this falls to the coaches. I'm leaving them out of this because that is a completely different topic for discussion. I just wanted to focus on what guys are currently contributing and how they can do more to pick up this offense.
Defense, we need more from you guys too...all of you. Three and one-half quarters isn't good enough. We need a full game every time from here on out. Oh, and kickers...don't think I forgot you. Your margin for error is now zero, if OU wishes to make a NOLA run. No more missed FGs and no more shanked punts, okay guys?
Sorry for the dissertation. I hope it was worth the LONG read.