Game balls, helmet stickers and individual player grades are commonplace any more after every game in college football today. As Oklahoma football heads into the second half of the 2016 season, we offer up first-half evaluations of the Sooner offense, defense, special teams and coaching staff.
Oct 15, 2016; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Dede Westbrook (11) and Oklahoma Sooners running back Joe Mixon (25) celebrate a touchdown against the Kansas State Wildcats during the third quarter at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
After a rough first-quarter of the season in which the once No. 3-ranked Sooners lost two of their first three games, sending shock waves of concern across the Sooner Nation and a dust storm of OU doubters throughout the college football world, the beginning of Big 12 play has improved the spirits around Norman, Okla.
Some would argue that while suffering humbling losses to Houston and Ohio State was difficult to take, it also may have helped the Sooners identify adjustments that needed to be made and fast before taking on three tough opponents to begin the Big 12 schedule.
Oklahoma closed out the first half of the season with consecutive wins over TCU, Texas and Kansas State. The Sooners looked dominant at times in all three victories, but probably played their best all-around game last weekend against Bill Snyder and K-State.
The good news for OU fans is that the offense has kicked in and appears to be playing at the high level of which it is capable, and the defense is starting to play with greater consistency as well. When that happens, Oklahoma is generally in a good place on the scoreboard and in the standings.
The Sooners have won their last 10 conference games, dating back to mid-October last year when they were upset by Texas in the annual showdown with the Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl. Sporting a perfect 3-0 mark in the league so far this season, Oklahoma is currently tied with Baylor atop the conference standings.
Here’s our first-half report card for 2016 Oklahoma football:
Oct 8, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Dede Westbrook (11) and quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) celebrate a touchdown in the third quarter against the Texas Longhorns at Cotton Bowl. Oklahoma won 45-40. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
The Sooner offense sputtered some out of the gate. While there were flashes of high performance in both the run game and when quarterback Baker Mayfield went to the air in nonconference games against Houston and Ohio State, the consistency that is expected from ranked teams wasn’t there.
The offense was unable to sustain drives, which put additional stress and physical strain on an already maligned and challenged defense. Against Houston, the Sooners abandoned the run game far too early in the game, which made them one-dimensional and too predictable on the offensive end.
The week off between Ohio State and the conference opener with TCU was well timed for a team that needed to do some serious soul searching and get itself back up and headed in the right direction.
The Oklahoma offense since the loss to Ohio State has been back firing on all cylinders, much like it was the second half of last season. The Sooners’ running game, behind the two-headed monster of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, has picked up the pace in the last three games, and because the rushing attack has been effective, the Oklahoma passing game has thrived as well.
Wide receiver Dede Westbrook has emerged as one of best big-play receivers in the country, and Mayfield has found him on deep touchdown throws at least once in each of the past three games. Westbrook’s 574 yards receiving the past three weeks is a school record and not far off of his total over 13 games last season.
In its first three games, OU exceeded the 500-yard mark in total offense just once. The last three games, however, the Sooners have amassed more than 500 yards every time out.
And we would be remiss not to give credit to the offensive line, which has been down a couple of starters because of injury but nevertheless a major factor in Oklahoma’s recent turnaround offensively. Grade: B+
Oct 15, 2016; Norman, OK, USA; Kansas State Wildcats wide receiver Dominique Heath (4) is tackled by Oklahoma Sooners safety Steven Parker (10) during the second quarter at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
There isn’t much question that defensively Oklahoma is not performing at the level that Bob or Mike Stoops would like to see it. Losing five starters from a year ago is one thing, but injuries have taken a further toll, especially on the defensive line and at the back end, where the Sooners have been torched too many times this season on deep balls.
Except for the Ohio State game, Oklahoma has done a solid job of stopping or at least slowing down the opponents’ ground game, and the last two weeks there has been a marked improvement in defending the pass and getting third-down stops.
Redshirt junior linebacker Ogbonnia “Obo” Okoronkwo has been a major disruptive force in the middle of the Sooner “D.” He is one of the team leaders in overall tackles and is tied for the Big 12 lead with six quarterback sacks.
Cornerback Jordan Thomas has lived up to his All-Big 12 selection of last season. He leads the Big 12 with 11 pass break-ups, including a couple of big ones last weekend that could have led to Kansas State touchdowns.
Tackling is another aspect of the OU defense that has improved in recent weeks.
The Sooners, however, have not been very opportunistic on defense so far this season, forcing just five turnovers in six games, tied for worst in the Big 12.
Oklahoma is 36th in the country in rushing defense, but 107th in passing yards allowed and 100 in points given up per game.
Defense is a definite weakness on this year’s Oklahoma team and could well be the difference maker in whether or not the Sooners repeat as Big 12 champions. Grade: C-
Nov 28, 2015; Stillwater, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners place kicker Austin Seibert (43) kicks during the first half against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Boone Pickens Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports
Austin Seibert is six out of nine on field-goal attempts and a perfect 31 of 31 in extra points. He also handles punting and kickoff chores for the Sooners. His 23 punts are averaging 42.3 yards per kick and 11 have been placed inside the opponents’ 20 yard line. Twenty-one of his 43 kickoff have been fielded or gone out of the end zone for a touchback.
The kickoff and punt coverage has been solid (no returns for touchdowns). Joe Mixon ranks second in the Big 12, averaging 26 yards per return, including one touchdown. Grade: B+
Considering the difficult start to the season and the number of injuries that the coaching staff has had to work around on offense and defense, the staff has done a relatively good job of addressing some of the fundamental breakdowns and problems in execution and getting the team prepared and back on a winning track the past three weeks.
I’d like to see better game management in how OU utilizes its timeouts, but I also agree with Bob Stoops’ reasoning when he says he would rather not have any timeouts left at the end of the half or the game rather than give up a touchdown or a big play because players aren’t lined up in the right positions. Grade: B
This is not Bob Stoops’ best Oklahoma team, not by a long shot. But it is still good enough to win the conference, especially in a year in which the conference as a whole is not as strong as it has been in recent seasons. The past three weeks, the Sooners have demonstrated that they can move the ball and put up plenty of points, and do so in a hurry. The defense has also started to play better and with more consistency and continuity. They will need all of that to continue in the second half to stay on top of the standings. Grade: B