Oklahoma's offense suffered a setback when it was announced on Monday that starting running back Keith Ford will be out 2-3 weeks with a fracture in his right leg. While it opens the door for true freshman Samaje Perine and redshirt sophomore Alex Ross to get a bit of a larger role within the offense, it also brings about some concerns as to whether the two can pass protect and be viable threats from the backfield in the same way that Ford has been.
Going into Morgantown for a night game would lead one to believe that OU needs their running game to be functional and effective. Can they do that with Perine and Ross? I believe they not only can but that they will have to. Here's what I'm expecting to see from Oklahoma's offensive game plan.
Keep Trevor Knight comfortable and confident - For all the good that he's been for Oklahoma this season, let's not forget that Trevor Knight is still a youngster and is making a hostile road start in a night game. There's no reason to presume that he'll falter under the lights on Saturday night. He performed admirably on the road at Kansas State near the end of last season and was off to a good start against Oklahoma State before being injured at the end of a run. He was spectacular against Tulsa in Oklahoma's only road game, thus far, of the 2014 season but he was also playing in front of a pro Oklahoma crowd in Tulsa.
What Josh Heupel wants to do is keep his quarterback level headed and not put him in situations early on where he needs to make big throws. By balancing the offense, using misdirection, and finding a way to allow Knight to distribute the ball in the short to mid-range passing zones he can keep Knight confident and unrattled on the road. The other aspect of this is to keep him protected against the blitz and for the line to not get beat in their one-on-one matches.
Distribute the ball - It's no secret that Sterling Shepard has become Knight's go to guy. The junior receiver has become what Ryan Broyles was to Landry Jones, what Jermaine Gresham was to Sam Bradford, and what Mark Clayton was to Jason White. You know this, I know this, and every defense on Oklahoma's football schedule knows this.
This is great news for Oklahoma's offense as long as they can take advantage of all the attention it will bring Shepard's way. Durron Neal, KJ Young, Blake Bell need to be active components of the passing attack where Knight intentionally looks their way. It allows him to build a rhythm with someone else, gives OU the opportunity to exploit one-on-one matchups against receiving targets, possibly slides the safety back over to the middle of the field and away from Shepard.
Run the ball with intent - Once again this is potentially the most crucial aspect of the offensive game plan. West Virginia is the most threatening offense that the Sooners have faced to this point of the season and Oklahoma is playing against them on the road. While this is the most dominating start to as season that an OU defense has had since the 2009 season, you still don't want to leave them on the field too long against an offense that is going to stretch them both horizontally and vertically. Oklahoma must run the football on offense to keep the potential of another shootout in Morgantown from occurring.
Running the football provides the balance that is needed to keep Trevor Knight out of situations where he could possibly be asked to do too much. It also grinds against the clock which limits the number of snaps that Clint Trickett and the West Virginia offense get as well as keeps the defense well rested. Finally, with the Mountaineers' defense giving up an average of 4.7 yards per carry to opposing offenses, Oklahoma is a legitimate threat to score on the ground. Alex Ross is averaging 6.3 yards per carry and Samaje Perine is toting the ball at a pace of 5.5 yards per carry. If they can continue that success in Morgantown then the WVU defense will have no other choice than to move their defense inside and closer to the line of scrimmage. That's when Sterling Shepard gets to work his magic.