Oklahoma Football: 7 Things That Need to Be Fixed Before 2012
2011 was an interesting season for Oklahoma, one that deviated considerably from many people's expectations.
OU played well in the early portion of the season, but in an inexplicable loss to Texas Tech, followed by a disappointing defeat to Baylor and a humiliating trouncing against Oklahoma State, OU didn't execute at a level it needed to in order to stay in the national title picture.
Granted, there is still the Insight Bowl against Iowa, a chance to end a frustrating year on a high note. Looking to next season, though, here are the seven most glaring problems that need to be remedied for the Crimson and Cream.
7. Pass Defense
Oklahoma was 77th overall in total pass yards given up this season, and its failure to be disciplined in coverage contributed significantly to the losses to Texas Tech and Baylor, in which it surrendered 452 and 485 yards, respectively. The ineptitude was especially prevalent against Baylor when Robert Griffin III drove his team 80 yards in 43 seconds and burned the Sooner D.
For a perennial power with the caliber of athletes and defensive tradition that Oklahoma has, this is inexcusable. Whether it means making additions/removals from the coaching staff, changing schemes or mixing up the personnel, OU's secondary must improve.
6. Big Plays Given Up
As demonstrated in the Baylor and Texas Tech losses, OU was devastated by allowing big plays this season.
In fact, the Sooners gave up four plays of 60 or more yards, 10 of 50-plus yards, 17 of 40-plus yards and 30 of 30-plus yards, placing them very low in the national statistics. Allowing an average of almost 1.5 plays of 40 or more yards per game should be out of the question for a team with this caliber of athletes and talent.
Big plays generate considerable momentum, such as the 44-yard touchdown catch by Alex Torres early in the Texas Tech game and the astonishing 87-yard Kendall Wright touchdown catch off a tipped pass against Baylor, a game-changing play.
The Bedlam fiasco put an exclamation point on a disappointing season in which Oklahoma turned the ball over far too many times (28, 109th in the nation).
Three turnovers against Baylor was a considerable factor that contributed to the Sooners' second loss.
And if not for the five ugly giveaways against Oklahoma State, the Bedlam Game could have been an entirely different story. Instead, the Sooners had three devastating fumbles and two crippling interceptions, effectively eliminating any chance of victory. It's challenging enough to beat the third-ranked team on the road; giving it the ball five extra times basically extinguishes any hope of success.
Turnovers are killer for every team, and Oklahoma must cut way down on them in 2012 to be relevant again in the conference—much less national—discussion.
4. Competitive Drive
In all three of their losses this season, the Sooners lacked intensity and a hunger to win. They looked flat and utterly inept defensively in a baffling loss at home to Texas Tech.
Granted, Baylor is a solid team and RG3 is deserving of the Heisman Trophy, but OU didn't perform up to their standards in that contest either, turning the ball over three times, committing nine penalties and getting embarrassed for more than 600 yards on defense.
And what more needs to be said about the Bedlam Game? Almost everything that could go wrong did for Oklahoma, and the Sooners took themselves out of the game early by turning the ball over in crucial situations and looking listless and unmotivated in general.
It goes without saying that the will to win is essential for success, but sometimes it seems to be lacking in Bob Stoops' teams.
3. Lack of Offensive Creativity
When the OU offense is on, it's a beautiful sight. However, when the Sooners struggle to move the ball, it can be painful to see the lack of any rhythm or ability to sustain drives.
In order to reduce these hiccoughs, offensive coordinators Jay Norvell and Josh Heupel need to be more innovative. Trick plays—like halfback passes, receiver passes, reverses and even the occasional hook-and-ladder—could work wonders when the offense finds itself in a frustrating stall. The Sooners need to take advantage of their athleticism more by running these types of plays, which can generate a lot of momentum and potentially be critical game-changers.
2. Tight Ends
The lack of a consistent and productive tight end hurt the Sooners this season. A reliable tight end, as Jermaine Gresham demonstrated a few years ago, can be a major weapon for an offense, especially on third down and in the red zone, two additional situations Oklahoma could improve in.
Sooner tight end James Hanna was mostly silent this season, logging 363 yards with and only two touchdowns. Trent Ratterree was used sparingly, as well; he only caught nine passes for one touchdown. For reference, Gresham in 2008 had 950 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Hopefully, OU utilizes Austin Haywood and/or other tight ends often in the passing game next season; if he is productive, it will add dimension and versatility to OU's offense.
1. Kickoff Returns
Big plays in special teams can be the difference in a close game, and Oklahoma failed to make any big plays in kickoff returns this season, averaging about 20 yards per return and registering zero touchdowns.
A solid kick return game can be incredibly effective not only by potentially scoring touchdowns but also by establishing favorable field position.
Oklahoma should experiment with different returners next season (Stills, Finch, Reynolds, Whaley, etc.) to try to develop a more threatening kick return unit, which could prove to be crucial in tight games.