In the second quarter of the Oklahoma Sooners’ 45-13 win over the UTEP Miners last weekend, OU started its fourth possession of the game at its own 26 yard line with 14:06 left in the second quarter. Leading 21-3, the Sooners netted four yards on three plays before punting. UTEP then scored a touchdown to cut the lead to 21-10, and OU lost five yards on three plays during the ensuing possession before punting again.
Two drives, six plays, one lost yard, zero points and 96 seconds in time of possession. It all led up to the OU offense giving UTEP the ball back with about seven minutes left in the first half and a chance to slice what was once a 21-point deficit to four. Sooner Nation was hoping to see that customary lull in the second quarter follow Lincoln Riley out to Southern California. Instead, the more things change...
In this case, the two empty possessions constituted nothing more than a blip on the way to an easy W. The segment still felt like a good example of one of the more potent criticisms of the uptempo pace favored by new OU offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby. Specifically, when those three-and-out possessions do come, they don’t take much time off the clock. That, in turn, gives the defense less time to rest between possessions. It also gives the opposing offenses more time to work with, which potentially means: a) more possessions for the opponent; and b) more plays for the defense on the field.
Needless to say, the second-quarter stall gave reporters and armchair pundits an opportunity to raise concerns about an otherwise solid performance by the Sooners. When asked about it during his Tuesday press conference, head coach Brent Venables dismissed the suggestion OU’s tempo will put his team’s defense in harm’s way. His message to the D: “You don’t need to worry about what’s going on offense. Your job is to stop people. Period.”
Frankly, grand pronouncements about the impact of tempo on game management feel more pointless now than ever. So many factors beyond pace of play influence the flow of a football game. If your team commits to playing fast, just accept that some short possessions will come with the territory and plan accordingly.
A few other takeaways from OU’s first game:
*From the outside looking in, the offensive line doesn’t grade out as well on a second viewing as it did in the moment.
To be fair, center Andrew Raym likely played one of the better games of his career. He looked more comfortable with the demands of the position, especially when it comes to how well he moves trying to work down the field. Likewise, not many complaints about the combo on the right side of guard Chris Murray and tackle Anton Harrison, who was stepping in for Wanya Morris.
The left side was more concerning. Tackle Tyler Guyton did some damage on the move, but he appeared to get beat around the edge in passing situations too often. Additionally, guard McKade Mettauer struggled to stand his ground. Subs Aaryn Parks and Robert Congel didn’t fare much better.
Going forward, the hope is that Morris’ return should stabilize the unit. OL coach Bill Bedenbaugh also needs to come up with a plan for working around Mettauer’s current limitations.
*What accounted for the absence of a screen game on offense? Was Lebby trying to keep it under wraps, or did UTEP’s defensive scheme discourage going to the quick passing attack?
*Venables and defensive coordinator Ted Roof didn’t get particularly exotic with their blitz packages. This corner blitz in the third quarter, however, was a thing of beauty:
Unfortunately, a chip block from the running back at the last second probably kept Woodi Washington from getting to the UTEP QB in time.
*Can’t lie: That shot Marvin Mims took on the fair catch in the first half would dissuade me from using him as a punt returner going forward.