Once thought to be a sure first-round NFL draft pick, Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones passed on the money for an extra year in school. The gamble didn’t pay off. After an up-and-down season in 2012, Jones waited until the fourth round to hear his name called.
In the analysis surrounding the quarterback’s draft status, the focus actually seemed to move away from Jones’ play to his coaches. It started with his appearance on ESPN analyst Jon Gruden’s annual televised skull sessions, when the Super Bowl-winning ex-coach pinned Jones’ struggles on “boredom” and poor scheming ($).
Saturday afternoon, pro football’s most notable game manager, Trent Dilfer, was far more blunt in his criticism. It was a variation on the same theme as Gruden, though: The Sooners pass-heavy offensive is gimmicky; all sizzle, no steak.
Personally, I don’t think the situation with OU’s offense has been so cut-and-dry, but ESPN doesn’t pay their guys for nuance. (This is the same network that beams Skip Bayless to your cable box every day, after all.) Oklahoma still managed to win 10 games last year with one of the worst defenses in program history against a challenging schedule. The team had to be doing something right on the offensive side of the ball.
John Hoover of the Tulsa World already put together a deconstruction that rebuts the particulars of Dilfer’s critique about as well as can be done.
Yet, in the grander scheme of things, Gruden and Dilfer aren’t entirely wrong about the flaws in OU’s offense.
As Hoover points out, offensive coordinator Josh Heupel would no doubt love to have a reliable tight end on the field all the time. If you don’t have one who can get the job done, though, better to have another reliable wideout in the game.
Likewise, something tells me that if Heupel could have left Jones in the game in short-yardage situations, he would have. OU’s nagging inability to pound the ball on the ground made developing a package like the Belldozer a necessity. Equally important, it worked – the Sooners saw their conversion percentage on third down increase from 42 percent in 2011 to 52 percent in '12; they scored touchdowns on 67 percent of trips to the red zone, up from 59 percent in '11.
Heupel spent the entire 2012 season plugging holes in the dam. I’m far from Heupel’s biggest cheerleader, but he did exceedingly well making due with what he had.
Of greater concern to Bob Stoops should be why Heupel had to get so creative last fall. Until the coaching staff addresses the Sooners’ root problems on offense – OU hasn’t run the ball consistently for four or five years, to name one – expect to hear more of Dilfer dogging Heupel’s “spitballing” every April.