Oklahoma's Running Woes Aren't Just an Offensive Line Issue
The Oklahoma Sooners are wasting no time addressing their offensive woes.
Offensive centers and guards coach James Patton is out at Oklahoma and has been hired by Indiana's head coach Kevin Wilson to be the Hoosiers' new recruiting coordinator, special teams coordinator and defensive line coach.
According to the Norman Transcript, Patton "became the third assistant to leave OU in the last 13 months for something other than a head coaching job."
From all accounts, Patton and head coach Bob Stoops are very good friends, so this departure is a little telling.
While it's not known if Patton left on his own volition, the fact that Stoops was willing to let a good friend go speaks volumes about where his focus lies, the running game.
A cursory look at the rushing offense numbers will tell you that Oklahoma, once one of the most feared rushing teams in the country, has limped through the Big 12 with its mediocre rushing attack, while other teams like Oklahoma State and Baylor have vaulted over the Sooners in that category.
In 2012 Oklahoma finished seventh in rushing offense among all Big 12 teams.
More salt in the Sooners' wounds: Kansas, Oklahoma State and Baylor finished much higher than Oklahoma.
And it's a trend.
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Not a good look for Oklahoma fans.
But give Bob Stoops credit for addressing the problem head on and trying to fix it.
But is the O-line really the problem?
If the O-line was such a question mark, then how did the Sooners finish a respectable third in sacks allowed? And why were two of the Sooners' interior linemen (Gabe Ikard, Lane Johnson) named to the 2012 All-Big 12 teams and a third (Daryl Williams) named honorable mention?
I'm not putting all my eggs in one basket by blaming the just O-line.
I am, however, looking at what has happened to Oklahoma over the past few years.
In 2011, running back Dominique Whaley turned heads in spring practice.
Whaley was a walk-on.
According to the Oklahoman, Whaley was hoping for a shot to make the team:
Whaley admits he was hoping to just make OU's roster last spring. Now he's driven to carve out a role in what Stoops said will be a "running back by committee."
"I feel the position is wide open," Whaley said. "They're giving all of us plenty of opportunities. I feel I do have a chance to compete and maybe win the job."
Whaley ended up being the starter, until he was injured in the Kansas State game—breaking his left ankle and missing the rest of the season.
2012 was just as bad.
Whaley, despite being cleared to play, never looked 100 percent.
The point of all of this is simple—with 4 and 5-star talent littered all over Oklahoma's running back depth charts, why did a walk-on over achieve and get the nod to start?
Sure it's a great story, but why was Whaley one of the only backs that could run behind the Sooners' O-line?
Why is the running game a problem at Oklahoma?
Roy Finch was a highly recruited 4-star RB in the class of 2010, as well as Brennan Clay, a 5-star back. Last season Clay rushed for 555 yards and six touchdowns, while Finch rushed for 62 yards. He was plugged in as a slot receiver the previous year, but for some reason, he just didn't seem to fit anywhere on the offense.
And therein lies the problem for the Sooners: a ton of square-pegged talent that doesn't fit their round-holed offensive schemes.
The Sooners' offense, once a well-defined and oiled machine, has lost its identity.
USC suffered a similar fate last season.
The USC Trojans were once known as Tailback U, but the running game wasn't strong and the passing game under quarterback Matt Barkley was inconsistent.
Meanwhile, teams like Stanford and Oregon completely redefined their offenses.
USC kind of just looked like a jigsaw puzzle with key pieces just not quite fitting.
Oklahoma used to have a strong rushing attack with a solid passing game to back it up.
But playing against pass-happy Big 12 offenses—and often being forced to play catch up—creates a reactive offense, not a proactive offense.
Oklahoma was taken out of its own offensive game because its defense was not being able to stop more balanced offenses such as Kansas State and Notre Dame.
Moreover, isn't Oklahoma's running back by committee approach is just a nice way of saying, "no one has stepped up and made a case for himself as a starter."
One other point needs to be made—Oklahoma has only had one All-American offensive lineman in the past four years—tackle Trent Williams.
Maybe the Sooners need to recruit better.
Maybe the Sooners do a good job of recognizing talent, but are poor at developing it.
Maybe it's a combination of both.
A good O-line coach could fix those problems.
The good news here is that Stoops isn't messing around. He knows the running game is an issue and he's trying to correct what he perceives to be the problem—the O-line.
Despite losing Patton to Indiana, if this season's results yield better rushing productivity, then it was the right decision.
But if the running game doesn't get going this year, Stoops' decision may have been too hasty.
In the meantime, this guy is the rumored replacement for Patton.
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