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Remember these guys? The ones who handed Mizzou three of their six losses in 2007-08? The team that has quashed more possible Mizzou conference titles than basically all other rivals combined? Yeah, we've officially avoided them for the last time. From here on out, Mizzou plays them every year again. Try to contain your excitement. But hey ... as they said in Major League, one of these days we're gonna figure out how to beat those guys...
Scoring Margin: +215 (+16.5 per game)
Conference Scoring Margin: +104 (+13.0 per game)
Wins (F/+ Ranking in parentheses): #27 Stanford (31-27), #38 Oklahoma State (27-0), #47 Texas A&M (65-10), #60 Kansas (35-13), #72 Baylor (33-7), #83 Tulsa (45-0), #90 Kansas State (42-30), Idaho State (64-0)
Losses: #5 Texas (13-16), #11 Miami (20-21), #17 Nebraska (3-10), #21 BYU (13-14), #22 Texas Tech (13-41)
Oklahoma's 2009 season provided us with a perfect opportunity to see how heavily most people view wins and losses. By almost all measures, Oklahoma had a very good team in 2009. Four of their five losses came away from home, to Top 21 teams, by a combined margin of 12 points. Almost anybody in the country who played the teams the Sooners played, all away from home, would have probably lost too. Therefore it makes perfect sense that they still found their way into the Top 15 of the F/+ rankings -- if you're truly trying to evaluate who the top teams are, then wins and losses are but one factor. If OU would have played Boise State's schedule, they'd have gone undefeated just like the Broncos did.
Of course, the fact that they were not able to actually close the deal in any of their close games is a bit troubling. In the end, we're not talking about Boise State here, so if Oklahoma was judged harshly for losing five times despite the luck that went against them, then it's because they're OU, and OU doesn't lose five times in a season. Plus, in the end, they did indeed go 0-5 versus Top 25 teams (and 8-0 versus sub-Top 25 teams). But this was a very good team that was close to being an outstanding team. With a little more experience and luck with injuries, their step backwards will likely be only a one-year phenomenon.
And speaking of which ... I'm really getting sick of missing Oklahoma and Texas in their 'down' years. Mizzou didn't get to play Texas in either 2006 or 2007, when they were good but not "Texas" good; meanwhile, they missed Oklahoma in both 2005 and 2009. Not saying they'd have beaten either OU team (it's not like Mizzou was hot stuff in either season), but they'd have had a pretty good chance at Texas in 2006-07, and it's certainly interesting to think about how the "Pinkel can't win the big game" mantra (one that is ridiculous anyway, considering he did indeed win the biggest game in the history of the program just two and a half years ago ... but that's too inconvenient to remember for some) would have taken a hit if Mizzou had knocked off one of these teams, one of these years. Oh well. Soon enough, I guess Mizzou will get their shot at both teams every year, for better or (mostly) worse.
Head Coach: Bob Stoops
Record at Oklahoma: 117-28 (72-16 in conference)
It's a lot of fun kicking Bob Stoops when he's down. Yuk yuk, he's not "Big Game Bob" anymore. Ha ha, he's getting lapped by Texas now. Get your licks in while you can, of course, as I'm not thinking he's going to be down for too long.
Stoops' record at Oklahoma is astounding, especially considering what the three previous OU coaches had managed to do:
Gary Gibbs, Howard Schnellenburger, John Blake (1989-98): 61-50-3 (36-35-2 in conference)
Yes, this is still Oklahoma, and the structure for success is always in place there if the right person is driving the bus, but that's still a lot of mediocrity, over an extended period of time, to overcome ... and Stoops overcame it in one season. Oklahoma immediately went from 5-6 to 7-5 to 13-0 in Stoops' first two seasons, and all he's done since then is average 11 wins per season since the national title win.
Stoops gets a lot of crap for his recent losses in both the National Championship game and the Red River Rivalry. And to be sure ... he's lost quite a few of those games recently. They are 0-3 in title game appearances since 2003, and after dominating Texas early in his career, he's now lost four of five to them. But the last two Texas games have both been decided by a play or two, as were two of his three national title losses. He's paid to win those games instead of just almost winning, but it's not like they're falling apart. They're a lucky break or two from being right back in the national title game.
Standard Downs S&P+: 67th
Redzone S&P+: 41st
Q1 S&P+: 43rd
1st Down S&P+: 60th
Rushing S&P+: 88th
Standard Downs: 93rd
Adj. Line Yards: 111th
Passing S&P+: 34th
Standard Downs: 37th
Adj. Sack Rate: 11th
While Oklahoma was indeed almost as good as ever last year, they certainly do not have the offense to thank for that. After their near-perfect offensive execution in 2008, they fell off a cliff in 2009, relatively speaking. And with good reason. They lost four starters on the offensive line and their top two receivers from 2008, then tight end Jermaine Gresham was lost before the season started. Then Sam Bradford got hurt in the second quarter of the first game. And Ryan Broyles got hurt, then DeMarco Murray (who was never completely healthy to begin with). And then the new offensive line got waylaid by a comical number of injuries. Jarvis Jones missed four games, Ben Habern three. Brian Lepak replaced Habern, then got hurt. Southwest Missouri product Tyler Evans was limping around on one ankle. It got so bad that tight end Brody Eldridge had to move to the line ... and then he got hurt.
For the season, Oklahoma started a ridiculous FOUR different players at center, and yet another converted tight end, Eric Mensik, started the last two games at tackle. Complete and total insanity. We hear a lot about how the 2000 Oklahoma squad was smiled on by fate -- no starters missed a game due to injury, and though there were nagging injuries here and there, they were as lucky as a team can be when all is said and done. In that case, 2009 was the anti-2000. They suffered four seasons' worth of injuries on just the offensive side of the ball.
Seriously, four different centers. Mizzou has started four centers IN THE LAST FOURTEEN SEASONS.
Taking all of this into consideration it makes sense that not only would Oklahoma struggle offensively, but they would struggle most on standard downs. As I've mentioned before, I view those downs as "play-calling downs," so to speak. They are the downs in which you try to execute the gameplan you designed (because once you fall into passing downs, the gameplan can fall apart). It would make sense that Kevin Wilson, a truly great offensive coordinator, had no clue what plays might or might not work last season, with a rotating cast of walking wounded running on and off the field. Even though OU was a Top 15 offense on Passing Downs (which is a good sign for them -- Passing Downs success is heavily tied to the quarterback, meaning OU is likely to continue their passing downs success for a while, with Landry Jones being but a sophomore), they were falling into far too many passing downs to consistently succeed.
When we think of the 2009 Oklahoma offense, we probably think of Sam Bradford being harassed and sacked against BYU -- for a first impression, this is a bit of a false one. For the season, OU's pass protection was actually quite solid (against all odds), though Jones' escapability helped. It was run blocking where OU's line struggled the most -- neither DeMarco Murray nor Chris Brown ran effectively, but they were getting no help whatsoever up front.
|Standard Downs S&P+||46||27||22||6||67|
|Passing Downs S&P+||35||62||9||3||15|
|Adj. Line Yards||82||48||63||5||111|
|Adj. Sack Rate||31||22||16||2||11|
|* F/+ data does not exist for offenses and defenses until the 2006 season.
That 2008 offense really was one of the best we'll ever see. They were good at absolutely everything.
Beyond that Captain Obvious observation, the one thing we should probably take from this is that, when you've got the talent that Oklahoma has drawn to Norman, you can improve quickly -- 2009's numbers were in a lot of ways extremely comparable to those from 2005, and when the freshmen and sophomores who were thrown into the fire in 2005 started to get some experience, the offense took off quickly, especially when Sam Bradford took over at quarterback in 2007. We don't know what Landry Jones is capable of just yet, but drastic improvement certainly isn't out the realm of possibility.
2009 Unit Ranking: 29th (4th in the Big 12)
Because he inherited an infinitely less favorable situation, Jones' first season didn't go quite as well as Sam Bradford's ... to say the least. With a mix-and-match line and only one receiver he trusted (Broyles), he had some outstanding performances (26-for-37 for 294 yards, 4 TDs and 0 INTs versus Kansas State; 24-for-39 for 392 yards, 5 TDs and 1 INT versus Texas A&M) and some downright awful ones (26-for-58 for 245 yards, 0 TDs and 5 INTs versus Nebraska). I don't think anybody knows what he is capable of at this point, so I guess I'll just wait to evaluate him any further until the week of the Mizzou-Oklahoma game, eh?
2009 Unit Ranking: 78th (10th in the Big 12)
Projected Depth Chart
The DeMarco Murray we saw at the beginning of his freshman season (2007) was just frightening. In the first six games of his career, Murray carried the ball 67 times for 444 yards (6.6 per carry) and nine touchdowns. He put up 128 yards against Texas and looked like a future Heisman contender. But he revealed something against Missouri that season -- he loses confidence in the blink of an eye -- that has cost him dearly over time ... and then the injuries started. He dislocated his knee against Texas Tech in 2007, then injured his knee again against Mizzou in 2008. Between the health issues and what just seemed like a lack of confidence (nonexistent run blocking certainly didn't help), Murray was an extremely hesitant runner in 2009. He received over 10 carries in eight games last season and averaged over five yards per carry just twice, once against Idaho State. If he rediscovers his mojo (and his knees let him use that mojo), he appears to have the tools to dominate as a senior. If he doesn't, however, look for Jermie Calhoun, a former star recruit who had a nice spring, to start stealing more and more carries.
(One other note about OU's RBs: they catch a LOT of passes out of the backfield, particularly Murray. While he might not be the most confident runner between the tackles, he's still quite dangerous in open space.)
Wide Receivers / Tight Ends
2009 Unit Ranking: 32nd (6th in the Big 12)
Projected TE Depth Chart
With a stable quarterback situation and good health, it's amazing to think about Ryan Broyles might have been able to do last year. He caught four passes for 26 yards against BYU as Bradford and Jones were running for their lives, and he fractured his shoulder blade in the first drive of the game against Miami. He missed the rest of the Miami game, all of the Baylor game, and only played a minor role against Texas. So that's four games, seven catches, 96 yards, and two touchdowns.
- Broyles vs BYU, Miami, Baylor, Texas (4 games): 7 catches, 96 yards, 2 TDs
- Broyles vs everybody else (9 games): 82 catches, 1024 yards, 13 TDs.
Project his nine-game average over a 13-game season, and you get this: 118 catches, 1,479 yards, 19 TDs. Yikes. Granted, that's not quite Danario's 1,781-yard total, but that's All-American caliber work (and since he's at OU and not Missouri, he'd have gotten plenty of recognition, ahem ... yes, still bitter). Broyles is a relatively frail-looking guy, so there's nothing saying he won't get hurt again this year, but if he stays healthy all season, he provides Jones with the most proven receiving target in the Big 12. He is a Mark Clayton clone and could put up ridiculous numbers in 2010.
Now Jones just needs to find a #2 guy. Dejuan Miller, Brandon Caleb and Cameron Kinney all took turns showing potential in 2009, but none were consistent. Miller had 5 catches for 67 yards against Baylor, 5 for 69 against Nebraska, and 6 for 84 against Stanford. Caleb had 7 catches for 139 yards against Baylor ... and then caught five passes the rest of the year. Kenney had 6 for 72 against Miami, then had 13 catches the rest of the year. Missouri fans talk optimistically about Wes Kemp, who showed flashes but disappeared for long stretches in 2009. Basically, OU has three Wes Kemps. A lot of hope is being pinned on incoming freshman Kenny Stills, who reported for spring practice and looked great. You don't want to count on a true freshman any more than you have to, but Stills could be a player to watch, as could incoming freshman Justin McCay, a former Mizzou target from outside the KC area who was almost a five-star recruit last season.
(On a side note, I hate going against Oklahoma in recruiting. Almost the only time we ever won a battle against them was for Jeremy Maclin ... and ... well, I guess if you're only going to win one battle, that's the one to win.)
And I would be remiss if I did not mention TRENT DANGER RATTERREE at tight end. For those newer RMN readers, Ratterree is the younger brother of my high school best friend (we tried our damnedest to get Mizzou to recruit him), so if you see a random "RATTERREE!!!!!!" comment from me during a football live thread, it's probably because he just caught a pass. He came within about an inch of scoring his first career touchdown in the Sun Bowl ... it's just a matter of time, Trent, it's just a matter of time. And for what it's worth, Ratterree had five of his 11 receptions in the final two games of the season last year (including 3 for 86 in the Sun Bowl). Tight ends have always played a key role in successful OU offenses, and that might have been a clue that Jones was starting to trust him a bit more. We'll see.
2009 Unit Ranking: 13th (1st in the Big 12)
Projected Depth Chart
G Stephen Good (6'6, 291, Jr.)
T Cory Brandon (6'7, 310, Sr.)
C Ben Habern (6'3, 288, So.)
T Jarvis Jones (6'7, 297, Jr.)
G Tyler Evans (6'5, 321, So.)
T Donald Stephenson (6'6, 285, Jr.)
G Tavaris Jeffries (6'4, 309, Sr.)
T Eric Mensik (6'6, 265, Sr.)
G Gabe Ikard (6'4, 252, RSFr.)
C Brian Lepak (6'4, 275, Sr.)
I'll go ahead and say it: James Patton is the most underrated assistant coach in America. The Sooners' offensive line coach was given duct tape and a glue stick and told to create an offensive line out of it last year, and while OU's run blocking suffered mightily, at the very least they were able to keep Landry Jones upright for the most part after failing to do the same for Sam Bradford. They ranked 13th in the country thanks to outstanding sack rates, and while they almost certainly weren't the true #13 offensive line in the country, the patchwork crew did not perform as badly as could have, all things considered. This was supposed to be OU's biggest weakness before the season began, with a ton of talent and pure heft (hello, Phil Loadholt) lost to the NFL. When the injury train started rolling, they had to import players from other positions just to fill the two-deep. That they didn't have the worst line in the league was damn impressive. Now, with more-or-less full health (and Blue Springs product Donald Stephenson back in the mix after a year-long suspension) and infinitely more experience, the Sooner line should once again be pretty stout. Goodie.
There are so many "In theory"'s with the OU offense. In theory, Jones, a former four-star recruit with last year's "thrown into the fire" experience behind him, could rather quickly become one of the Big 12's best quarterbacks, if not the best, in 2010. In theory, better run blocking will lead to a more confident and assertive DeMarco Murray. In theory, a healthy Ryan Broyles could be ridiculous, and OU has about six solid options for finding a good #2 receiver. In theory, continuity on the line will help this bunch significantly. And in theory, there's no way that they will be as unlucky with the injury bug. If they are, they need to fire their trainer -- he's doing something wrong.
We will find out just how much theory turns into fact rather early on with the Sooners. They take on Florida State, Cincinnati (in Cincinnati) and Texas (in Dallas) among their first five games, and they face what was a rather tricky Air Force 3-4 defense last year as well (it was so successful that I assume they'll keep the 3-4 look even with defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter now in College Station). Jones doesn't have to be Sam Bradford to succeed -- he was just a handful of points away from succeeding at a really high level last year, despite all the injures and inexperience, even though he didn't have Bradford-esque stats.
This is a very good offense that has the potential to be outstanding. In theory.