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Oklahoma Sooners Football: Areas for improvement

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Ideas about points of emphasis for OU with the Sooners now in the back half of the season.

NCAA Football: Texas Christian at Oklahoma Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma Sooners have entered an odd stretch of the 2021 season. In the big picture, the next three weeks – a trip to Kansas on Saturday, a home game against Texas Tech on Oct. 30 and an open date – look like a way station between a few tricky midseason tests and a rough finishing kick. OU is a 38-point favorite over KU, the line will probably be in the range of three touchdowns versus the Red Raiders and the Sooners should kick the hell out of BYE.

In the here and now, however, OU still has plenty of work left to do in the next three weeks. Naturally, that starts with not suffering a catastrophic loss to the Jayhawks and/or Tech. (Bear in mind the Sooners were favored by about 40 points in 2011 when they fell to the Red Raiders in what started a disappointing slide to end the year.) Continuing to tailor the offensive to fit Caleb Williams’ prodigious talents at quarterback also seems like a given.

Consider this a list of other suggested priorities for Oklahoma in the next three weeks. It is by no means exhaustive.

Get healthy.

NCAA Football: Texas Christian at Oklahoma Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

This kinda falls outside the team’s control, but you get the drift. This squad is banged up after seven straight games. Rotational players dealing with injuries of varying severity at the moment include:

  • Right tackle Tyrese Robinson;
  • Utility offensive lineman Erik Swenson;
  • Wide receiver Mario Williams;
  • WR Theo Wease;
  • WR Cody Jackson;
  • Defensive lineman Jalen Redmond;
  • DL Isaiah Coe;
  • Linebacker Danny Stutsman;
  • Cornerback Woodi Washington;
  • CB D.J. Graham; and
  • Safety Delarrin Turner-Yell.

And those are the ones we know about.

A fair number of players on that list will probably sit out in the next two weeks. The open date also should give the walking wounded extra time to heal up.

Don’t be surprised if Lincoln Riley gets his frontline players off the field as early as possible to avoid them taking more punishment than necessary. Should the opportunity present itself, Riley may try to put the games out of reach quickly for that very reason.

Which leads us to...

Build depth.

OU has played so many tight games this season that its reserves haven’t seen many opportunities to build experience on the field. The injury situation is forcing the coaching staff to dip deep down the bench in some cases to prepare backups for action on the fly.

Some of the measures taken in the TCU game to make up for players’ absences set off alarm bells. Most notably, with Washington still sidelined, CBs coach Roy Manning and defensive coordinator Alex Grinch shifted freshman Billy Bowman from first-team nickel to starting CB over a handful of players who were already practicing at the position. Even then, little-used CB Joshua Eaton still got pressed into service when Graham went down in the first quarter.

No better time than the present to get players like Eaton some seasoning. Marcus Major could audition for a bigger share of the snaps down the stretch at running back after missing the first five games of the year. Freshman Savion Byrd may see some extended action at offensive tackle.

Bottom line: It never hurts to have more players ready to contribute late in the season.

Kick the field-goal habit.

NCAA Football: West Virginia at Oklahoma Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Having a standout placekicker should be a good thing for a football team. For OU, it sometimes feels like a curse. Gabe Brkic may be the best kicker in the country, but you’re hustling backwards if your All-American kicker entices to you to take three points too often when you should be shooting for six.

Perhaps this would be a good time for Riley to go cold turkey on field goals. At the very least, evaluate the team’s approach to managing down and distance in FG range.

Find ways to put the ball in Mario Williams’ hands.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Oklahoma Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

To be fair, Williams’ departure from last week’s game may put the explosive wideout in the category of players whose health would warrant time to recuperate. Once he is back at full speed, though, he needs more touches. There are only so many opportunities to go around on any football team; nevertheless it still seems as though OU needs to manufacture more chances to let Williams showcase his skills in both the quick passing game and going downfield.

In fact, leveraging the skills of QB Caleb Williams and Mario as runners with concepts such as jet read sounds like something that would terrorize defensive coordinators.