How will Oklahoma finish after surprising, disappointing?
OCT 25, 2013 10:32a ET
They've switched quarterbacks (twice) and switched defenses, too.
The offense has changed and so has the feel around the program. For a team that's 6-1, ranked No. 18 in the country and has a lot to still gain, many folks are wondering what's going to happen to OU the final five games of the season.
Here's a look back a disappointment, a surprise and a prediction or two for the rest of the season:
Biggest surprise: Defense
No one thought the Sooners would be better defensively than they were the previous two seasons when the Sooners fell apart in the second half of the schedule. Instead, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops deserves some credit.
Oklahoma leads the nation in pass defense (149.7) and is ninth in total defense (293.4). Kansas managed just 16 passing yards last week. Only Texas has scored more than 20 points. TCU didn't get a first down in the first half against OU. Kansas had just one in the second half.
"It's not perfect by any stretch," Mike Stoops said.
No one is saying the Sooners are perfect, but they are sure a lot better than they have been.
Biggest disappointment: Offensive identity
Who are these guys?
At the beginning of the season, coaches said this offense would look the same as it did in years past under Landry Jones and Sam Bradford.
Then they said they liked the idea of a mobile quarterback.
Then they stopped running the quarterback.
Then they made a quarterback change. Twice.
Hard to get a handle on what the Sooners do well on offense. Yes, the rushing attack has been good, but no, the quarterback play has not been consistent. Starter Blake Bell played well against Tulsa, good against Notre Dame, well enough against TCU and then dreadful against Texas.
Trevor Knight was good enough to start the season, but not good enough to hold onto his job.
Kendal Thompson seems to be gaining momentum as a possible replacement for Bell, but coaches haven't made that move yet.
"It's not about what we're averaging," co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. "We want to score a lot of points, but it's about finding ways to win."
Bell is completing 63 percent of his passes and has thrown eight touchdowns. Yet, he's thrown just two touchdown passes in the past three games, to go along with three interceptions in that same span.
The offensive struggles, particularly in Big 12 play, aren't solely on Bell, but maybe if the coaching staff had a clear direction of what they wanted to do with the offense, Bell would have more success.
"I think the bottom line, whether you win pretty or win ugly or you got great stats or not, it's to do the things you have to do to beat that opponent that day," co-offensive coordinatory Jay Norvell said. "That's the way this football team is going to be. We kinda felt that way in the spring. We've just got to find ways to win. We've got to find ways to protect the ball. We've done that at times and then there's times where we've been inconsistent."
Best running back: ?
Brennan Clay, Damien Williams, Roy Finch, Keith Ford, even Trey Millard.
OU coaches don't know who the starter will be on a week-to-week basis as witnessed by the depth chart that has, "Clay or Williams" listed.
Clay is sixth in the Big 12 with 70.9 rushing yards per game, but Finch averaged nearly eight yards per carry against Kansas and almost nine yards per carry against Tulsa. No one has run harder than Keith Ford, but after he fumbled in the first half against Kansas we didn't hear from him again. Millard is the most versatile and he was really good against Kansas, but has had more than three carries in a game just once this season. If you like Williams, there's plenty of positives. He carried 35 times the first two games of the season then 26 times the next three games. Against Kansas, Williams had 53 yards on 10 carries.
Who will get the ball against Texas Tech Saturday? No one knows. What we do know is OU has a lot of runners, none of them that much better than the next.
Reason to be positive: The schedule
Let's glass-half-full this thing. OU hasn't played a good game in a month – since beating Notre Dame. You could really make the case they are due, and you could really make a case that this week's game sets up really good for the Sooners.
OU lost last time at home against Texas Tech and now the Red Raiders come in this weekend 7-0 and ranked No. 10 in the BCS. That's a motivator, especially considering the fact OU has already lost once this season. Another loss means big problems for the Sooners. Now, not saying desperate teams are good teams to count on, but the players and coaches have been hearing how they just aren't that good this year
My guess is that's a strong motivator for Oklahoma. Meanwhile, Texas Tech has played well, but hasn't played anyone noteworthy. The Red Raiders also feature a pair of freshmen at quarterback. We'll see how they respond to their toughest game of the season, a game the nation will be paying attention to, also. That's a situation OU is familiar with, but Tech isn't.
A win this week, and that's certainly not out of the question (the Sooners are favored), and suddenly next week's pressure shifts to undefeated Baylor, which also hasn't played any real competition this year. There's plenty of positives ahead for OU in the next two weeks.
OU is also 3-0 at home under Bob Stoops against Big 12 teams who are 5-0 and better meaning the Sooners are at their best when the competition is at its best.
Reason to worry: The schedule
After Saturday's game against Texas Tech, the Sooners finish the season with three road games. The only break is a home against the Cyclones.
That's kind of scary for the Sooners.
Right now OU is in the middle of the Big 12 race – despite its one loss, but any loss the rest of the way will be devastating. More importantly, a loss to Texas Tech would be worse. Losing to the Red Raiders wouldn't fill fans or players with much confidence heading into a game on Nov. 7 against Baylor.
Count on: A win against Iowa State
Yeah, that one is safe.
Don't Count on: Any other wins
Aside from a home game on Nov. 16 against Iowa State, there are no sure things on the schedule. Be honest, are you marking down wins at Kansas State, Oklahoma State or at Baylor?
Best-case scenario: A move into the top 10
It's not improbable to think OU could make a huge leap the next two weeks. No team ahead of Oklahoma in the BCS standings (OU is at No. 15) stands to gain more than the Sooners with back-to-back games against back-to-back undefeated and top-10 teams.
A win against Tech, then against Baylor puts OU not only at the top of the Big 12 Conference, but also puts OU on the bubble of the national championship picture. Unlikely? Maybe, but there's still that chance. If OU manages a pair of wins the next two weeks, that would mean the Sooenrs would be 8-1 and then they would be a huge favorite to win out – and that includes a game at Oklahoma State.
Worst-case scenario: Downward spiral
All bets are off if the Sooners fall against Texas Tech. You don't need me to say it.
Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK