The Oklahoma Sooners are right where they want to be. After defeating the Kansas Jayhawks on the road last weekend, the Sooners remain undefeated on the year (6-0).
The Sooners began the season No. 1 in both the AP and the Coaches Polls; however, the impressive play of both LSU and Alabama have forced the pollsters to rethink matters.
OU is still No. 1 in the Coaches Poll, but they have fallen to No. 3 in both the AP poll and the recently announced BCS. But is this such a bad thing?
I say no. With LSU and Alabama going head-to-head on Nov. 5, one of the SEC teams is bound to have at least one loss on the year. This puts Oklahoma in a great position if they can remain undefeated.
This leads to my midseason report card of the Sooners’ offense, defense, special teams and coaching. It’s hard to find criticism when a team is undefeated and ranked as highly as Oklahoma, but here goes nothing.
With quarterback Landry Jones and All-Amerian wide receiver Ryan Broyles returning to the starting lineup, the biggest question the Sooners had on offense was the running game. Even though Oklahoma has a plethora of talented backs, it was unclear who was going to step up.
Junior walk-on Dominique Whaley has done a more than admirable job taking DeMarco Murray’s place as the No. 1 back on the roster. Through six games, Whaley has rushed for 627 yards and nine touchdowns. This puts him on pace for 1,254 yards and 18 scores. That beats Murray’s best season at OU by 40 yards and three scores; not too bad for a walk-on.
Behind Whaley’s strong performances, the Sooners currently have the No. 48 rushing attack in the nation with 173.7 yards per game. The good running game for the Sooners has been quite beneficial, as the Sooners are a throw-first spread offense.
Jones has led the Sooners to the fifth-ranked passing offense in the nation (373.5 yards per game). Jones has thrown for 2,177 yards, 16 touchdowns and only six interceptions through six games.
He currently has career bests in passer rating (156) and completion percentage (67.6). The high completion percentage is a product of an improved offensive line. After giving up 19 sacks a season ago, Jones has only been put on the ground twice this season.
With so much time in the pocket, Jones is able to look downfield and allow his talented wide receivers to make plays. Broyles is off to a great start with 60 receptions for 815 yards and nine touchdowns. His 815 yards is good enough for fourth in the nation, and after last weekend, he is officially the all-time receptions leader in college football with 326.
Sophomore wide receiver Kenny Stills has already missed two games this season, but he is still producing at a high level with 27 receptions for 330 yards and five touchdowns through four games.
Fellow sophomore wide receiver Jaz Reynolds has also come on strong after missing the first two games of the season. He has 19 receptions for 330 yards and one touchdown.
Some things on the offense could be better, such as Jones’ composure. Even though Jones produces Heisman-level stats, he still gets rattled when he gets pressured. He shuffles his feet, makes bad decisions and is visually nervous.
A few mistakes throughout the course of a game won’t cause any damage, especially when you’re playing teams like Kansas and Ball State. However, a few mistakes could make or break the game against the likes of LSU, Alabama or even Oklahoma State, who the Sooners are sure to face.
It’s hard to be critical on an offense that is seventh in the nation in total offense (3,283 yards), fourth in yards per game (547.2 yards) and sixth in points per game (45.3), but Jones’ composure is a cause for concern.
Overall, though, the Sooners’ offense is in great shape.
The Sooners’ offense was supposed to be one of the best in the nation, but I doubt many expected their defense to be as good as it is.
Anchored by All-American linebacker Travis Lewis, the Sooners’ defense is only giving up 15.8 points per game, which is good enough to be No. 11 in the nation. Lewis, who was sidelined for the first game with a toe injury, made a triumphant return against Florida State in Week 2.
Lewis was supposed to be out until the Red River Rivalry in Week 6, but his fast-healing has helped the Sooners’ defense to be dominant. Through five games played, Lewis leads the Sooners with 42 tackles.
There were a few questions surrounding the defensive line going into the season, but there has been only one answer needed thus far: They are better than advertised.
The Sooners are third in the nation in sacks with 24, and senior defensive end Frank Alexander has contributed 6.5 of them. Alexander has played great this season with 30 tackles and even one interception. He has been the most consistent defensive lineman for the Sooners.
Oklahoma's secondary, known as "The Sharks," has been the most inconsistent unit on the defense, and they are still only giving up 201 passing yards per game. If the Sooners can keep it to 200 yards per game, that will hold up as a pretty great stat in a pass-heavy conference.
Anchoring the secondary is sophomore defensive back Tony Jefferson. Jefferson has 33 tackles on the year and leads the team with four interceptions.
The Sooners have only given up five passing touchdowns on the year, and at least two of those came on busted coverages; one against Tulsa in the season opener, and one against Florida State in Week 3.
Two exciting stats for Oklahoma's defense deal with their opponents' third down conversion and red zone percentages. The Sooners are holding teams to 29 percent on third downs and 58 percent in the red zone.
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables has to be happy with how his defense has performed thus far, but the secondary has to cut down on their mental lapses when it comes to coverage.
Those busted coverages are going to hurt during games against high scoring offenses like Baylor, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State.
Special teams has been one area that has been a pain for the Sooners in recent years, especially when it comes to kick-off coverage. Last season, the Sooners gave up four kick returns for touchdowns.
However, if it weren't for Texas' running back Fozzy Whittaker's 100-plus yard return during the Red River Rivalry, the Sooners would have a clean slate going into Week 8.
As it is, even with the one long return, the Sooners are only giving up 21.25 yards per return. That's more or less a touchback. It's safe to say that the Sooners have put in a lot of practice on defending kickoff returns, and it's obvious that it's working.
On the other side of things, the Sooners have had a rather abysmal return game this season. Sophomore wide receiver Trey Franks, the Sooners' primary kickoff return man, is averaging 23 yards per return this season. However, as a team, the Sooners are only averaging 19.2 yards per return with zero touchdowns.
Ryan Broyles is returning punts for the fourth straight year, but he is only averaging 9.85 yards per return, the second lowest average of his career. He has also yet to break off a return for a touchdown.
Junior punter Tress Way is averaging over 40 yards per punt for the third straight year, but this year's 40.87 yard average is the lowest of his career by four yards.
Senior kicker Jimmy Stevens started the year off perfect on field goals (4-for-4) with one missed extra point (6-for-7), but he hasn't played since the Florida State win in Week 3.
Since then, freshman Michael Hunnicutt has played great, making 10-of-11 field goals and 26-of-26 extra points.
The kicking game has really been the bright spot of an otherwise lackluster and average Oklahoma special teams.
Again, it's hard to be nitpicky about an undefeated team that's ranked No. 3 in the nation, and that's even more true when it's head coach is Bob Stoops.
The Stoops era (1999-present) at Oklahoma has been really nice to both the football program and to the fans. Stoops has already won seven Big 12 championships at Oklahoma, and he appears to be well on his way to his eighth. That is, if Oklahoma can remain undefeated.
I have already talked about how well both the offense and defense have played this season, and that's due directly to the coaching. Brent Venables has been calling the shots defensively since 2004, and the Sooners have always had one of the best defenses in the country.
This year is no different. Venables is able to keep opposing offenses on their toes by mixing up blitz packages and man to zone coverages. He is making a great case for garnering a head coaching position, and he may have some offers at the end of the season.
Former Oklahoma quarterback turned quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel is in his first season as Oklahoma's offensive coordinator. It's fair to say that he's been doing a great job of play-calling when you look at the numbers.
The Sooners have one of the most high-powered offenses in the nation, and they are getting it done in multiple ways. Heupel's play-calling has been great between the 20's, and the Sooners are converting 46.5 percent of their third-downs.
They're also converting 91 percent of their red zone attempts. This is a great number, don't get me wrong, but Heupel could really improve in his red zone play calling. Coming away with three points instead of seven points is a big difference, and the Sooners had to do this three times last week against Kansas.
Even though the Sooners ended up beating the Jayhawks by 30, their offense was struggling more so than it had all season. After getting down the field and inside the 10-yard line three times, the Sooners struggled to find any plays that would work.
That's a momentum killer. Heupel has to figure out what works, and it's definitely not throwing multiple bubble screens in a row or running a draw out of shotgun when there are eight or nine defenders in the box.
So while I can't complain about the Sooners scoring when they have the chance, they need to find a way to score more touchdowns; not just kick field goals.
Overall, the Oklahoma Sooners don't have too much to complain about. Sitting at 6-0 midway through the season, the Sooners have a lot to be thankful for.
They survived a defensive matchup on the road in a packed house against a (then) top-five Florida State team. They came back against an athletic Missouri squad after starting out completely flat. They sleepwalked their way through last weekend's victory against Kansas, while the offense looked pretty awful the entire night.
However, they still managed to get the job done. They have done what it takes to win in every game this season. If they can continue to do that, they will go undefeated and find a spot in the BCS National Championship game.
They will be favorites in all their remaining games, but that doesn't mean they'll be cakewalks. The Sooners will face Texas Tech, Kansas State, Texas A&M, Baylor, Iowa State and Oklahoma State in a row. None of those teams have a losing record and three are still ranked in the Top 25.
On the road at Kansas State and Baylor will prove to be harder than once thought, and the last game against Oklahoma State has the potential to be No. 2 versus No. 3, which will decide both the Big 12 championship and who goes to the national championship.
So, while the Sooners have done a lot, the season is far from over. They have to eliminate all the little mistakes they have been making on offense and defense, and improving their kickoff and punt returns would be a great boost.
The No. 3 ranked Sooners have, in fact, played like the third best team in the country. Let's hope they can play like the true No. 1 before the season is over.