I generally try to avoid lambasting teams’ game plans for the simple reason that, as fans, we’re shrouded in a veil of ignorance.
It doesn’t matter how knowledgeable you are about strategy, how closely you follow the minutiae that wafts out through the media, how many “inside sources” you claim to have – coaches are there day in and day out with a team. They have a far better idea of who’s doing what behind the scenes and, equally important, what they’re equipped to do on the field.
That doesn’t make coaches beyond reproach. It simply means that on the outside, we’re flying half-blind when it comes to critiquing personnel decisions, play calling and the like.
So in that vein, I’d love to know what Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel – and head coach Bob Stoops – are seeing out on the practice field in Norman.
Oklahoma put up 12 measly points Thursday night against a Baylor defense that has improved significantly from previous vintages of Art Briles’ run-and-gun outfits. Baylor got a stellar effort from star safety Ahmad Dixon, tackled soundly and blanketed Sooner receivers all over the field. Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett had his side of the ball ready to defend wrinkles in the quarterback running game. The Bears also controlled the line of scrimmage in short yardage.
You’ll get no argument that it was a great effort from Baylor. Yet, despite all the postgame gushing over the Bears' D, it doesn’t take much to overwhelm an offense that inept. The Sooners had extra time to prepare a game plan. All that extra prep yielded an offense that achieved a Congress-like level of dysfunction.
I don’t think it would be covering any new ground at this point to say OU has the offensive identity of an amnesiac. The Sooners relieved any doubt of that Thursday night. They not only looked desperate in how they haphazardly “attacked” the Bears, but clueless as well.
Heupel is shuffling between different offensive philosophies suited to different personnel from game to game – or even down to down. For the most part, OU seems to be running some semblance of Hal Mumme’s scheme – plus a dash of the option – with a quarterback in Blake Bell who has been most effective in his career as a short-yardage runner. The No. 2 QB, who appears best suited to a true Pistol offense, is almost exclusively running keepers when he gets in the game. The No. 3 guy? Who knows.
It’s a misfiring mess.
In thinking it over today, I actually came up with a pretty disturbing parallel regarding how this season has turned out: Texas circa 2010.
Prior to the start of spring camp that year, Mack Brown decreed that his team would adopt an “SEC-style” power running game and pro-style offense. The Longhorns had recruited and developed players to run the Air Raid, and the head coach was telling his offensive coordinator, Greg Davis, to completely change course with a first-year starter at quarterback.
Mack found out pretty quickly that season that such a drastic change requires more than the CEO just giving the order. Texas’ season went downhill fast as the ‘Horns imploded offensively. Davis had to change course again in the middle of the season. UT reverted to a half-cocked hybrid with some of the principles of the spread scheme that had treated the ‘Horns so well for all those years, which only screwed things up more.
The Longhorns limped to a pathetic 5-7 finish that set in motion Mack’s reclamation project. As for Davis, he “stepped down” as part of a staff purge.
The Sooners haven’t fallen apart to the same degree in 2013, so the similarities only go so far. Stoops took proactive steps before this season started to ensure that kind of collapse wouldn’t happen. However, the mismanagement of the transition to a new offensive scheme fits the situation to a (U)T.
I don’t doubt that Heupel and Stoops could explain away their thinking by pulling back the curtain on their preparation. If they wanted to, they could give a candid assessment of what OU’s players can and can’t execute. They won’t do that, of course, nor should they.
You don’t have to be in the thick of things to see that this offense is a disaster, though. If that’s the best that can be done with the talent on hand in Norman, then the program has hit what once seemed like unfathomably low depths. If it’s not, Stoops has to make a call regarding the direction of the offense. (I wouldn't necessarily like it, but that could even mean returning exclusively to a four-wide offense with a quarterback who can sling it.)
Stoops’ time at OU is starting to run short. Avoiding a clumsy exit will require getting the O back on track, and, frankly, it’s hard to see how continuing down this path will lead him there.