Blake Bell and the Oklahoma offense did not get off to the quick start Saturday night many in Sooner Nation had hoped to see, but after a slow first quarter they were a model of efficiency and showed how this team needs to win games going forward.
Said slow first quarter saw OU's offensive drives end with a blocked field goal, a fumble, and two punts. Not to mention an early third down and eight where Josh Heupel chooses to run an option play, almost identical to the unsuccessful call he made against Kansas early in the first quarter, that had several questioning his confidence in Bell for the decision not to throw. Fortunately, it proved to be misguided speculation as Heupel would show confidence in Bell throughout the remainder of the game and Bell would reward him for it.
This was easily the best game this OU offense has played since Notre Dame and Saturday night against Texas Tech they showed how this team is going to win games with Blake Bell as the starting quarterback.
Part 1: The occasional big play down the field.
It should not have to be a case of hitting on multiple trick plays for big yardage, but Oklahoma's willingness to pull out some of their tricks has clearly helped to loosen up not only this OU offense but opposing defenses as well.
Add to that the long pass to Jalen Saunders and suddenly the defenses you are facing are forced to back up a little bit, have to respect your ability to go down field with the football, and can't just load up the box with extra defenders.
And speaking of that long pass to Saunders, Bell threw that ball a legitimate 50 yards in the air to a spot on the field and Saunders ran under it perfectly in stride. You have to understand just how impressive that was and especially for a guy who has really struggled throwing the deep ball all season, including at times in this very game. The only way Bell is ever going to get better at those type of throws is by being given the chance to make them. And yeah, they're not always going to be as pretty as this particular one was and some of them might even result in an interception. But they have to be a part of the game plan going forward if for no other reason than to loosen up opposing defense.
Which leads us nicely into Part 2 of our plan for this OU offense.
Part 2: Drive sustaining, clock killing, run heavy drives.
The OU offense had scoring drives in this game of 97, 76, 86, 75, and 58 yards respectively. Removing the one play, 76-yard scoring drive consisting entirely of the aforementioned pass to Saunders, let's take a look at those others to illustrate our point.
16 plays (8 rushes, 8 passes), 97 yards, ends with a touchdown pass to Saunders off play-action (key point).
11 plays (10 rushes, 1 pass), 86 yards, ends with a Damien Williams rushing touchdown.
5 plays (4 rushes, 1 pass), 75 yards, ends with a Lacoltan Bester rushing touchdown.
7 plays (6 rushes, 1 pass), 58 yards, ends with another Williams rushing touchdown.
See the trend there?
Those type of run heavy drives are exactly how this offense is going to be successful going forward and not just for themselves, but also for this OU defense (who played outstandingly in this game) who needs their own break in between drives. And the run has to be the primary feature of this offense because it's the best defense, i.e. keeping the ball away, from an offense like the one in Baylor this OU team will face a week from Thursday. AND because there are few, if any, Big 12 defenses built to stop predominantly run heavy offenses.
This is not and probably isn't ever going to be an offense that can throw the ball all over the field. And to his credit, Josh Heupel FINALLY appeared to realize that Saturday night and featured Oklahoma's running game and the deep stable of backs they have to carry the football. Now a healthy portion of those run calls came with OU ahead on the scoreboard, but the Sooners did fall behind in this game briefly and there was no abandoning of the run game. Only time will tell if that's the case when/if OU falls behind by say a couple scores.
But as hard as many of us have been on Josh Heupel, these last two games against Kansas and Texas Tech have been infinitely more intelligent game plans than the still mind-baffling one used against Texas. Look if you want to rip the guy, you also have to be willing to compliment him when warranted. And right now, it's warranted.
Some quick bullet points to round things out.
- Words cannot possible express how much this team will miss Trey Millard, both on and off the field. It's criminal that this ACL injury is how his OU career will come to an end. Can't help but feel for the young man who will go down as one of the most talented players in program history. Seems fitting one of our final memories of him will be another hurdling of a defender on that catch he had down near the end zone.
- Someone, who shall remain nameless, picked Jalen Saunders during our Thursday night podcast as his player who needed to have a big game against Tech. 6 catches, 153 yards, and 2 touchdowns qualifies as a big game, right?
- It's crazy what Roy Finch can do if you put the ball in his hands, right? Might have been nice if they had tried to find a way for him to finish off that one drive where he basically got them all the way down into scoring position, but little man was absolutely gassed when they finally did sub him out. There is simply no denying he is OU's most explosive offensive player and needs to continue to be a feature of this offense going forward.
- Speaking of making plays, Lacoltan Bester seems to have an uncanny knack for making big ones. Sure it's really only been two consecutive weeks when you look at the big picture, but good things tend to happen when he gets the ball in his hands. So maybe that's something that can happen more than one or two times in a game from here on out.
- Would be remiss of me to not single out the offensive line. When you run for nearly 300 yards and don't allow a single quarterback sack, that qualifies as one hell of a night for that unit.
- Blake Bell was good, maybe even very good, but not great in this game. Which is fine because if you're running this offense the way it should be run, he shouldn't need to be great for you to win games. By far the most encouraging sign was the disappearance of his 'happy feet' in the pocket and there being multiple instances in which he stood strong in the pocket, stepping into throws even with a hit coming instead of falling away from the pressure.