No. 3 Sooners stalling frequently in red zone

BY foxsports • October 18, 2011

Oklahoma's fast-paced offense is difficult to stop from just about anywhere on the field.

But for some reason, the third-ranked Sooners keep finding ways to slow themselves down once they get into the red zone.

Oklahoma (6-0, 3-0 Big 12) is sixth in the nation with 45.3 points per game, but has scored touchdowns on only 56 percent of its possessions inside the opponents' 20-yard line this season. Last Saturday, the Sooners settled for four red-zone field goals - including three after getting inside the 10 - and allowed Kansas to stick around into the fourth quarter.

''It happens. You're not going to be perfect all the time,'' coach Bob Stoops said Tuesday. ''We were seven-for-seven scoring. Michael made all those (field goals). ... It's something we're working on, but we're down in that red zone a lot. We're down there more than a lot of people. We have to keep scoring.''

The red zone issues are hardly a new problem. Oklahoma has the same touchdown rate in the red zone over the past three seasons - 56 percent - as it does this season.

It proved most costly in a pair of losses last season: The Sooners came up empty on three of six red zone possessions at Missouri last season, then failed to score on four of six visits at Texas A&M.

''You have a shorter field to work with, so you've just got to know that you've got to buckle down and punch it in there,'' offensive lineman Adam Shead said.

It wasn't so long ago that Oklahoma was nearly a lock to score TDs in the red zone. The Sooners scored touchdowns on 85 percent of their trips inside the 20 in 2008, when quarterback Sam Bradford won the Heisman Trophy with an offense that featured three first-round picks.

''That group also set a national record for scoring, right? So, you're not going to do that every year,'' Stoops said. ''Sorry for everybody out there, the fans thinking we are, that's not going to happen.''

Stoops says the collective experience of Bradford, the offensive line and receivers that season made for such an impressive performance. The drop-off has coincided with when Bradford was first injured and missed most of the 2009 season and then left to become the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, along with fellow first-rounders Jermaine Gresham and Trent Williams.

''A lot of the same plays are being run. It's execution, it's players, it's all of that,'' Stoops said. ''Sure, we look at it: What can we do better?''

Since 2008, the Sooners have the third-worst red zone touchdown percentage among the 10 remaining Big 12 teams. (Nebraska and Colorado also had better marks than Oklahoma the past two seasons before leaving the conference.)

This season, only Texas has a worse mark in the league at 46 percent. Oklahoma ranks 83rd of the 120 Bowl Subdivision teams.

Texas Tech (4-2, 1-2), which will visit Norman on Saturday night, is the best in the Big 12 with 27 touchdowns in 33 red zone trips (82 percent).

''I think the issue is at the end, we're working to get it better, to not miss a block,'' Stoops said. ''But to think we're going to score a touchdown every time, as often as we're in the red zone, everyone thinks we've got to have 55-60 points every week. That's not going to happen.''

Stoops said there's no single area that's bringing down production. There have been problems with missed blocking assignments, and runs and passes have been equally ineffective. On one possession against Kansas, Dominique Whaley dropped a pass on first down, Landry Jones overthrew Ryan Broyles on second down and Trey Millard fell down on his route on third down.

The result: Another field goal and a missed opportunity to score more.

If there's a silver lining for the Sooners, it's this: While being inefficient on offense, Oklahoma is tied with Michigan State and Boise State for the fewest red zone touchdowns allowed this season - with only four in 12 trips.

''Everything's not going to be perfect,'' Shead said. ''You've just got to take punches that they throw and then throw them right back.''

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