OU football: Depth, maturity provides confidence for remainder of season
The Oklahoma football team’s offense isn’t running on all cylinders according to the OU coaching staff, but the production the team is getting from the position rotations speaks for the players’ maturity.
“We’ve got some high standards here, but we’re leaving some yards out there, and we feel like we can do better,” running backs coach Cale Gundy said.
Although the OU running game — ranked 49th in the nation, averaging just more than 175 yards per game — hasn’t been as productive as assessed during the preseason with senior running back Dominique Whaley returning from an ankle injury and the addition of transfer running back Damien Williams, injuries to both the offensive line and the running back rotation have created multiple setbacks.
But that’s not something the Sooners plan to dwell on, especially with Baylor coming to town this week.
“Everybody’s got injuries, but that’s why it’s important for the players that go in there to take care of their responsibilities,” Gundy said. “Some may play seven plays, nine plays; some may play 17. I don’t know, but the players just need to keep the offense moving.”
One way OU can keep the offensive wagon from falling off the beaten path is relying on a multidimensional offense.
Senior quarterback Landry Jones connected with nine different receivers in the win over Iowa State last week, continuing to stay in sync with several newcomers to this year’s team. Senior Justin Brown, junior Jalen Saunders and freshman Sterling Shepard all have emerged as playmakers in Jones’ arsenal of receivers, and all gave added confidence to the veteran passer who had only one eligible returning receiver from last year’s offense during fall camp.
“These last four or five games, I have been in rhythm and played really well,” Jones said. “I have been going through all my reads, stepping up in the pocket and making some plays, and I think this is probably one of the better stretches I have had in my career.”
Although having a group of receivers who can catch the needle-threaded passes and fight for the tough fade routes helps, the rushers also know their success can affect the outcome of OU’s passing game.
“It brings down the safeties and opens up the play action game tremendously,” junior running back Brennan Clay said. “But (rushers) can’t take all the credit: the line, the receivers blocking downfield, it all has to come together.”
Clay recently became the Sooners’ No. 1 back after Williams was sidelined by an injury during the Notre Dame game and Whaley slid down the depth chart after continuing to battle the lingering ankle injury from last season.
Gundy said Clay had the game of his life when the backup running back’s number was called against Iowa State. Whether Clay will start again over Williams against the Bears this weekend still remains to be seen, but knowing the Sooners are at least three-deep at the running back position gives the coaches added confidence players will step up when they’re needed.
“(Clay’s success) makes us feel like we’re recruiting the right type of players,” Gundy said. “We want to get the guys that go out there to win championships and not be only about the individual awards.”
And when the Sooners take to the field Saturday, the game plan is to execute with consistency against a defense that is ranked dead last in total defense among the 120 FBS schools.
“There is no magic potion to this game,” Jones said. “It is just going out there, playing with passion and having fun and doing what you are supposed to do when you are supposed to do it.”