Discover more from Oklahoma Columnist, by Clay Horning
Led by Lebby, Gabriel, at right tempo, Sooner offense should be better, not worse
Sooners already have a history of tempo offense making dramatic gains
First, some numbers.
Three lists, each it’s own story.
439.4, 462.1, 355.1, 368.7, 448.9, 547.9, 423.8, 481.4.
459.2, 506.2, 535.7, 530.4, 519.4, 561.7.
464.7, 530.2, 554.8, 579.6, 570.7, 537.8, 494.7, 451.5.
What might they be?
The first is Oklahoma’s total offense, on average, from 2003 to 2010:
Jason White’s Heisman season, followed by the Adrian Peterson’s (and White’s) near-Heisman season, the Rhett Bomar season, the Paul Thompson season, Sam Bradford’s first season, Bradford’s Heisman season, the Bradford-gets-hurt, Landry Jones season and Jones’ second season, also his best season.
You might recall Chuck Long coordinated the first two on the list, that Kevin Wilson coordinated the rest, yet the most prolific offense on it, 547.9 yards per game from scrimmage in 2008, was the one Wilson brought no-huddle tempo into the mix.
The second is Ohio State’s total offense, per season, beginning in 2016, the year before that same coordinator, Kevin Wilson, took the unit over and every year since, each with Wilson in charge, each employing a lot of tempo, each gaining more than 500 yards per outing.
Bonus points if you guessed it.
It’s Oklahoma average total offense from the last season Josh Heupel ran it, 2014, and every year since, the Lincoln Riley era, two seasons as coordinator and five as head coach.
You’ll notice a big jump’s Riley’s first three seasons, calling plays for Baker Mayfield, and comedowns, slight and dramatic, since.
It’s all very interesting, because near as can be surmised, what Brent Venables is doing as the new Sooner coach, beyond initiating an entirely new culture — a factor that may pay more dividends than any scheme or strategy choice — is make it 2008 all over again.
That’s the season Wilson pushed tempo upon the Sooners and OU’s offense exploded, averaging a third-best in the nation 547.9 yards from scrimmage, a sixth-best-in-the-nation 6.9 per snap, a best-in-the-nation 51.1 points per game, scoring an astonishing 374, 62.3 per game, the last five weeks of the conference season and in the Big 12 title game against Missouri.
The defense that year?
Not great but not horrendous.
Opponents averaged 367.7 yards, 5.2 per snap and 24.5 points. Plenty good enough given the Sooner offense. Plenty good, too, against Florida at the national championship game, holding the Gators to 24 points, though, alas, OU netted just 14 that night in Miami
Venables probably wants to play more defense than that. He may want to be on a 50 or 60 point pace only to settle in and sap the clock, coasting home rather than trading touchdowns.
What sounds even better is returning to a tempo philosophy offensively, which OU is also doing under offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, simultaneous to Venables’ transplanting the culture.
Take a look at Riley’s numbers and it’s impossible not to have one conclusion.
Though he may still be owed his “offensive genius” reputation, he built it on the back of legit Heisman Trophy candidates, Baker Mayfield finishing fourth, third and winning it, Kyler Murray winning it and Jalen Hurts finishing runner-up. Additionally, given Riley’s offense falling off the last two seasons, there’s real evidence his quarterbacks made him more than he made them.
Meanwhile, at Ohio State, where Wilson has enjoyed the services of Dwayne Haskins and Justin Fields, given their professional struggles, there’s significant evidence he made them more than they made him, and whether he has had them or not the Buckeye offense has churned no les than 500 yards per game each season since he brought his tempo to town.
To create the kind of jump Wilson initiated at OU in 2008 and at Ohio State in 2017, much is bound to fall upon conditioning, but if the Sooners were falling short there under strength coach Benny Wylie, and they seemed to be, they ought to get there under Jerry Schmidt, back with the program after five years away.
There’s reason, too, to like Dillon Gabriel at quarterback. Though his future may not be so bright as the guy he’s replacing — Caleb Williams — it could very well wind up better than Williams’ past, last season, when he was wildly inconsistent, taking too many sacks, waiting too long in the pocket, finally coming up with a game full of good decisions under the coaching of Bob Stoops and Cale Gundy at the Alamo Bowl.
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Gabriel appeared just three games last year at Central Florida before injury stole his season, but his 68.6 percent completion percentage was a great leap forward, he even ran for 5.2 yards per carry over 24 rushes and two of those three games came against Boise State and Louisville.
Can he execute tempo?
We’ll see, but he’ll get to try it behind an offensive line coached by Bill Bedenbaugh and getting its strength training from Schmidt, under a coordinator, Lebby, he worked with his freshman season at UCF and under the ultimate direction of a head coach who lives to dot I’s and cross T’s, a trait not shared by his predecessor.
It’s a lot of variables, so maybe go back to those numbers at the top.
The year Wilson brought tempo to OU, offensive production jumped by 99 yards. The year Wilson brought tempo to Ohio State, the Buckeye offense jumped by almost 50.
Now it’s Lebby’s turn here.
He’s taking over an offense most recently quarterbacked by two fantastically coveted prospects, each struggling to deliver.
Tempo, operating from the high floor cultivated by Venables’ culture transformation could be just the ticket.
It’s worked exceedingly well before.