Its not hard to find where to start when evaluating Oklahoma's offensive performance against UTEP on Saturday night. The five guys up front have a lot of work to do! Sure we could question the play calling but at the end of the day its hard to run any type of offensive scheme when you're getting whipped up front. That's the situation the Sooners found themselves in for most of the night.
Fortunately for OU the opponent was UTEP and the Sooners were able to overcome getting hit in the mouth early but I'm ready to resend my statement that the starting five is as good as anyone in the conference.
At the end of the day Oklahoma put up a respectable 426 yards of offense with seventeen first downs and 24 points on the board. From watching the game you probably wouldn't notice that they averaged 5.5 yards per carry or 5.8 yards per offensive snap. Overlooked in the fracas, most likely, is the fact that OU ran 73 offensive plays and had 204 net rushing yards. The reason why is that the holes left in the offensive line by the injuries to Ben Habern and Tyler Evans were exposed in a big way. UTEP blitzed on every third and long and the Sooners were seldom able to pick it up resulting in an atrocious 5-16 third down conversion percentage. It should also be noted that three of the successful conversions were Blake Bell plunges where the distance needed was less than two yards.
At the end of the day Oklahoma's offensive line spent too much time moving backwards and not enough moving forward. If you're looking for the biggest area in need of improvement of this offense its right there up front.
Offensive Line Grade: D
Landry Jones wasn't perfect but he was able to hit a couple of nice passes for scores which is more than we can say for him down the stretch of last season. He took care of the ball with no turnovers and connected on 58% of his passes, going 21/36 for 222 yards. At times he showed improved footwork and pocket awareness (see the touchdown to Kenny Stills) and at other moments he rushed his throw without setting up and missed high. It wasn't the worst performance from Jones during his four years as a Sooner (he'd have to try really hard to top Bedlam `11) but its a far cry from the best as well. I will say that he showed the ability to swallow the ball and take a sack rather than force a throw that wasn't there and often results in a turnover.
Quarterback Grade: B-
Kenny Stills stepped up as the go to guy in this game. He was Jones' primary target, catching six passes for 121 yards and a score. Run blocking was an issue for this group as was crisp route running. In all they looked like a brand new set of receivers playing together for the first time. Freshman Trey Metoyer and newcomer Justin Brown caught four passes each but neither was able to have an impact anywhere near the significance of Stills.
Another thing in the passing game that was noticeable, and a positive in my book, was that the Sooners were looking for tight ends. Brannon Green caught an 18-yard touchdown pass with both he and Taylor McNamara being targeted on a few other occasions.
Receivers Grade: B-
On the running backs I'm ready to call it now. With all due respect to Dominique Whaley and Brennan Clay, its time for them to yield to Damien Williams. Whaley and Clay averaged 4.9 and 4.3 yards per carry each, which is more than respectable, but Williams' 103 yards on ten carries is what has Sooner Nation fired up about the offense more than anything else. I'll give credit where it is due and say that our very own Jordan Esco called this several months ago.
Its hard to run behind poor blocking and the fact that Oklahoma's top three rushers averaged more than four yards per carry says a lot about their drive and ability. My biggest criticism with this group is poor pass blocking (particularly on blitzes) and fumbles and dropped passes...looking at you Mr. Whaley.
Running Backs Grade: C+
Overall the offense looked very much like it was the first game of the season. If they are still playing like this a month from now then I'm gonna say there are some major lingering issues. I'm going to continue to be an optimist and say that we'll see improvement from this group through the rest of the month, taking advantage of two bye weeks.
The overall play calling was balanced with 37 rushing attempts to 36 passes but in my opinion Heupel has to pick his moments a bit better. Kudos for not throwing it 60 times but I'm all for mixing a few more runs into the first half game plan. That could be the second greatest area of need for improvement and unfortunately its going to have to come from a young offensive coordinator with a patchwork offensive line.
Overall Offensive Grade: C-