3 Biggest Questions for the Sooner Offense
As the Sooner players begin their summer work, there are concerns about whether the Oklahoma offense can produce in the high-pressure moments this fall to get the Sooners back to double-digit wins.
Can the Sooners Improve 3rd Down Success in 2023?
Last season, Oklahoma posted an offense that averaged 32. 8 points per game, ranking them 33rd nationally and contributing to some of the losses the down the stretch. A major driving force behind Oklahoma’s lack of points was their inability to stay on the field in critical, game-altering scenarios. The Sooners ranked 49th in 3rd Down Conversions, at a success rate of 40.5%. This issue was highlighted in games such as TCU (early in the first half), Kansas State (late in the game to keep the Wildcats off the field), and against West Virginia, which was a culmination of many issues that plagued the Sooners all season long.
The ability to convert third downs, often comes down to quarterback play and before discussing Gabriel’s third down numbers, it should be noted that his efficiency on second down was impressive. When facing second down, Dillon Gabriel completed 70.6% of his throws with an efficiency of 174.6, throwing 10 touchdown passes with no turnovers.
However, when facing third downs, his competion percentage dropped to 53.4% with only three touchdowns and tossing four interceptions. While it may seem as simple as “Gabriel needs to be better,” receiver and offensive line play is critical to his success. When facing pressure, which is almost a certainty in 3rd down passing situations that require deeper drops and longer developing routes, Gabriel was only able to complete 33.3% of his throws. These are issues that must be addressed with each position group for OU in order to see their third down success hit elite levels this fall.
Will Coach Bedenbaugh Find the Magic Again?
Since 2019, those who watch the Sooners have offered up more than just a gentle critique regarding the offensive line. While Offensive Line Coach, Bill Bedenbaugh, was finally able to get one of his prized pupils to go in the first round of the NFL draft this past season, Left Tackle Anton Harrison, it will not stop the on-lookers from criticizing the on-field product this fall if it is not up to 2016-2018 standards.
It is well-known at this point that I believed, Coach Bedenbaugh, deserved to have a clean slate after the return of Strength Coach, Jerry Schmidt. Conditioning and strength development is critical to every position but is a major factor to offensive line success. Few coaches can boast a roster of NFL-mainstays along the offensive line like Coach Schmidt can, and it was my belief that the Sooners would greatly benefit from his return. While Oklahoma did seem to improve a season ago and produce some shining moments in their final game against Florida State, there are still growing concerns as to whether or not Oklahoma has what it takes to produce a championship-level unit.
Who Steps Up As the “Alpha-Dog” at Receiver?
At this point, Running Backs Coach, Demarco Murray, has a room full of players who can contribute to a successful offense and possesses two players in Jovantae Barnes, and Gavin Sawchuk, who are potential NFL backs later in their careers.
However, the same cannot be said for the receiver position, which is now being led by, Coach Emmett Jones. OU brought him in to improve technique of the position group and be an “Ace” recruiter in the state of Texas.
While last season, Marvin Mims was able to produce numbers worthy of the 63rd pick in the 2023 NFL draft, it showcased the need for players to step up behind him and produce at key moments when Mims drew extra attention from the defense.
This past offseason, Oklahoma secured a commitment from Michigan transfer, Andrel Anthony, who participated this spring and has continued to put in the necessary work to become a major piece of the offense. They also return players like Jalil Farooq, Gavin Freeman, Drake Stoops, and Nic Anderson. However, in order for the Sooners to achieve great success, they need those same names to help lead a unit that underwhelmed a season ago.