Oklahoma Football 2011: A Closer Look at No. 3 Sooners' Red Zone Blues

Eric PennellCorrespondent IIOctober 19, 2011

Fact: The Sooners have one of the most potent offenses in the country, racking up 45.3 points per game in 2011—good enough for sixth in the NCAA.

Fact: The Crimson and Cream have been consistently potent, finishing in the top 30 in points per game over the last five seasons.

Now that I have given credit where it is due, it is time to nitpick. When the team you are covering is as good as the Sooners, you are forced to dig to find things to complain about.

For the record, this is the case in this article.

Fact: The Sooners stink in the red zone. Come home from a two-week vacation to find the milk carton was left on the counter kind of stink.

I know I'm not the first one to strum this chord, but given its frustratingly persistent nature, it warrants a closer look.

There are generally two reasons a team fails to score a touchdown when inside the red zone. Either the offensive coordinator calls a bad sequence, or the players fail to execute properly.

So whose fault is it so far this season? The players or the coaches?

It is difficult and basically pointless to blame the play caller for the ineptitude. With the field of play compressed, there are only so many plays you can run without dipping into the trickeration bag.

All the O-coordinator can do is call the play; the players on the field have to execute and make good decisions. If an offensive lineman gets blown up, the run play is dead. If a receiver can't keep his man in check on the edge, the swing pass goes for negative yardage. If the quarterback throws the ball... you get the point.

The series that ended the second quarter against Kansas last week was particularly maddening. Landry Jones completed a four-yard pass to Ryan Broyles for a first down at the Kansas 13, setting the stage for an epic red-zone meltdown.

RB Dominique Whaley had consecutive runs of eight, one, zero and two yards to meek out a first down with seconds to go. With only one timeout, the Sooners were forced to try and throw for the touchdown.

The offense responded with a dropped ball, an overthrow and a pass that hit FB Trey Millard in the helmet after he tripped over his tight end. On came the thankfully consistent Michael Hunnicutt to hit one of his four field goals on the night—three of them from extra-point range.

Looking at the numbers, this problem has been brewing for some time. Take a look at the below chart, which shows the overall red zone touchdown percentage over the last five seasons, with its national rank.

  2011    2010    2009    2008  
TD% (rank) 56%(83) 57%(83) 56%(66)

This stat doesn't bode well for current quarterback Landry Jones. You can plainly see a sharp decline in 2009, the year Landry was forced into the starting role as a freshman. Given the circumstances, I'll spot him 2009. But 2010 and 2011? The numbers do the talking, here.

This table rules out the offensive coordinator as the full scapegoat. Kevin Wilson was calling plays from 2007 to 2010 and I can't imagine he simply forgot how to call a red-zone series after 2008. This year, Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell are calling the plays, but we see no difference in results compared to 2010.

There have also been six to eight running backs take red-zone carries from Landry Jones during his tenure at Oklahoma, so you can't blame it on an ineffective runner, either.

I promise I'm not trying to blame Landry for everything here, but the guy that touches the ball every play must bare some of the burden.

Things only get worse when the team travels away from the friendly confines of Norman, where not one player on the roster has been around for a loss. Let's check the books...

  2011    2010    2009 
TD% Home (rank) 70%(36) 62%(67) 65%(43)
TD% Away (rank) 41%(92) 53%(76)


Ouch. That away row gives me a stomach ache. Let's sum this article up, shall we?

I realize I piled on Landry Jones more than the rest, but I'll be the first to say the blame for the poor red-zone performances should be spread between several Sooners. Poor execution is the fault of both the coaches and the players.

I suppose if you wanted to put some blame on the coordinators, you could say they need to try some new things. Different personnel, packages, tempos, etc. Maybe put a defensive lineman at fullback, move Trey Millard to running back and smash it in. You could try a three-tight-end look and run/play action all the way in. Just some ideas.

Trading field goals with touchdowns against Oklahoma State's hyper-offense will get ugly, fast. A championship matchup against Alabama or LSU's Sunday-caliber defense will produce few precious chances for scores.

If the Sooners wish to complete their Chase for Eight, this wrong must be righted.

Eric Pennell is a Featured Columnist for the Oklahoma Sooners who also covers OKC Thunder Basketball (someday...) and EPL Soccer. Read more of his articles here. Follow him on Twitter.

Statistical information used in this article came from www.cfbstats.com.


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