Discover more from Oklahoma Columnist, by Clay Horning
If that's the new offensive plan, Sooners could be going somewhere
With a plan of attack to actually attack, Oklahoma rolls over Tulsa
Oklahoma’s first snap:
Dillon Gabriel drops back to pass, throws deep over the middle, an absolute strike to Andrel Anthony, gain of 55.
If that was offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby offering a big foam finger to his critics, the ones asking why on earth the Sooners ran the ball 47 times against SMU and threw it only 19, and not once down the field, it’s unfortunate.
But if it was something else, like the first play of a game plan he and, one hopes, Brent Venables, too, have decided to reflect a finally settled upon offensive identity … well then, a Sooner Nation celebration may be in order.
Saturday afternoon at Tulsa, almost every outward Sooner sign was a good one.
Though Tulsa hit a bushel of big passing plays against OU’s defense, it was hard to be too upset about it on a day that same defense picked off five passes, ultimately held the Golden Hurricane to 292 yards and victory’s corralled 66-17.
Offensively, the Sooners finished five yards short of 600 and might have finished closer to eight bills had it not been for all those interceptions creating shorter fields than eventual punts would have.
Anyway, it was a terrific boxscore that ought to make everybody happy. And still, dig a little deeper and the news could be quite a bit better than that.
Which brings us back to where we started, to Lebby and an offense that’s been a head-scratcher for more than a season.
And though it’s hard to understand how his best running back, Tawee Walker, one week after running for 117 yards and 5.6 per carry was all but kept off the field, or how he keeps going back to the Jackson-Arnold-Dozer, which has only succeeded in opening the true freshman quarterback up to injury, those were Saturday’s only questionable calls and even they remained tangential to the Sooners’ choice to attack, attack, attack.
Throwing 35 times to running it 28 felt more like it and how it broke down among receivers made it seem like 2008 all over again, when Juaquin Iglesias, Ryan Broyles and Manny Johnson were all huge threats, only this time it was Jalil Farooq, Nic Anderson and Anthony combining for 13 catches and 358 receiving yards, even as none of them led OU in catches, an honor reserved for Drake Stoops, who grabbed eight throws without a drop for 54 yards and two scores.
It seems, too, like the call’s been out to feed Stoops for a decade-plus, yet the Norman North product simply couldn’t get anybody to throw to him with any regularity. Only now, finally, that’s changing.
It’s also felt like, ever since Kyler Murray left town, OU's topped out at one prolific pass-catcher per season, if that, yet there the Sooners were coming in waves against the Golden Hurricane.
All that and, despite being held down by his offensive coordinator in the middle of his three games, Dillon Gabriel has nonetheless now completed 66 of 80 (82.5 percent) throws for 905 yards and 11 touchdowns against a single interception.
Sure, the opponents haven’t been the greatest, and still for the first time since Jalen Hurts was in Norman, it’s not crazy to again throw a Sooner quarterback into the Heisman mix.
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There was more.
After Gabriel left having completed 28 of 31 for more than 400 yards and four scores, Arnold came in and, having already bulleted a short-yardage incompletion at tight end Blake Smith from the Dozer package, completed two-of-three, including a beauty of a sideline spiral for a cool 50 yards and Anderson’s third touchdown.
So, when you think about it, the ballyhooed backup doesn’t need his own package to get on the field. All he needs is Lebby to believe in Gabriel and the concept of aiming for 50 points, not 30, and he’s bound to get plenty of third- and fourth-quarter minutes pitching game-in-hand relief.
I know, I know.
On this day, it worked.
What if it doesn’t?
Well, if it’s just not happening and turtling your offense somehow becomes the best option, turtle it.
But that should never happen.
Even had Gabriel’s first throw been incomplete, and even had his second not gone 34 yards to Farooq for a score, those kinds of attempts alone give opposing defenses more to think about, more to take into account, thus keeping more on OU’s plate that might work against an opposing unit forced to play honestly.
Bottom line, you can’t call a game out of fear. Underlining that bottom line, what on earth is there to fear given how coldly fantastic Gabriel’s slinging?
“We did a lot really well on offense,” Venables said.
Less than a minute later, he added, “We’ve got a laundry list of things defensively we’ve got to clean up.”
Just as long as the first of those quotes is as important to him as the second.
Because, for at least a game, the Sooners chose to be relentless with the ball and things worked out a whole lot better than every single time they’ve chosen not to be.
If the head coach can see that and insist upon it from his coordinator, the season’s ceiling will only get higher.