Josh Heupel, the Oklahoma Sooners' new co-offensive coordinator and play caller, has been a golden boy in Norman since leading OU to the program's seventh national championship back in 2000. Eleven years later, Heupel will again play a key role in a possible national title bid for his alma mater.
Word on the street is the players are excited about the new leadership. However, one of the questions on every Sooner fan's mind: How will Heupel add his own stamp on the Big Crimson Machine?
The world of college football coaches is very much a close-knit fraternity with offensive and defensive schemes passed down through the proverbial "coaching trees." What kind of limbs has Heupel sprouted from?
Notably, Heupel served under offensive coordinators Chuck Long (2004) and Kevin Wilson (2006-2010) while he worked his way up the coaching ranks at OU. (For the purpose of this exercise, we're going to ignore the 2005 and 2006 in our research. Heupel was at Arizona for one 3-8 season in 2005 and the 2006 Sooners had a converted wide receiver, Paul Thompson, at quarterback.)
I don't think we can define Kevin Wilson or Chuck Long as "system" guys and, therefore, I don't think Heupel will be one either. History shows that OU's coordinators have pragmatically tailored the attack to the tools available, and the Sooners and have never shied away from playing deserving underclassmen. Adrian Peterson, Malcolm Kelly, Juaquin Iglesias, Kenny Stills and Roy Finch are just a few of the true freshman to play major roles in the Sooner offense.
|Pass Att/Total Plays||42||59||47||53||52|
|Rush Att/Total Plays||58||41||53||47||48|
In 2004 under Long, the Sooners advanced to the national championship game behind a more traditional power offense that relied heavily on the run. A freshman by the name of Adrian Peterson and a veteran offensive line enabled OU to run so well, and Long took advantage.
When Wilson took over and installed more spread-based attack, OU's run-pass allocations essentially flipped. This was especially true in Sam Bradford and Landry Jones' first years as starters, 2007 and 2009. Also, bear in mind that the 2008 season inflated the rushing numbers somewhat, as the Sooners ran out blowouts in eight games.
What Heupel Has to Work With
During the last two years, the Sooners' average yards per completion rose from 7.2 to 7.6 as Landy Jones grew more comfortable in the offense. Discovering downfield threat Kenny Stills as a complement to Ryan Broyles has helped as well. Given the talent returning in 2011, the Sooners could have the best passing game in the country.
In contrast, a running game that has been sorely lacking since the 2008 season has to remain a major concern. The last two years the offense has averaged 3.6 and 3.3 yards per carry, respectively, and less than 140 yards a game. Although there were injuries and youth on the offensive line during that two-year span, this type of effort is not going to get OU to New Orleans in January.
Rejuvenating the Run Game
The first spot in the tailback rotation will come down to a competition between Finch, who's returning from injury, Brennan Clay, Jermie Calhoun and touted newcomer Brandon Williams. Finch has seen the most reps already and brings more of a speed, "scat back" skill set, while Clay, Calhoun and Williams are more traditional power runners.
Should OU opt to use Finch as a feature back, expect to see Heupel putting the offense in spread-ish sets on running downs. More likely, though, look for Heupel and running backs coach Cale Gundy to split carries among two or three backs and mix in some power formations.
Also, I think the last few games of 2010 gave us an indication that the "diamond" formation is something we could see even more of in the fall. It's a great set for Finch and would help get more of OU's talented runners on the field.
All that being said, I think we can safely assume that Heupel's offense will be dictated by the tools on campus. Like it or not, that probably means the Sooner O will still rely heavily on the pass and count on more of a complementary running game.