CNHI News Services
Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel will not divulge the length of his playbook. However, it was obvious in last Saturday’s victory over Texas Tech the Sooners dug in a little deeper than it had in previous weeks.
Quarterback Landry Jones completed passes to seven different receivers in the 41-20 victory. More importantly, all of them had a reception for at least 10 yards. Among that group were freshman Durron Neal and junior college transfer Lacoltan Bester.
“That’s big. Durron and Lacoltan came in and did a really good job for us,” Jones said. “Just seeing those guys in the game, the more depth that we have the better at wide receiver just in case someone gets gassed, someone gets tired you can put in another guy and have fresh legs out there.”
You can also be less predictable about where the ball is going. That’s something the Sooners have tried to emphasize for years. The performance against Texas Tech in several ways got away from the script it had shown in the first three games.
Running back Damien Williams had a season-high 20 carries or receptions. Fullback Trey Milliard got five. Most importantly, however, Jones was willing to go to second and third options. Senior wide receiver Justin Brown got his first touchdown catch in an OU uniform in that scenario. That’s also how players like Neal and Bester got involved.
They will all need to be involved when the 13th-ranked Sooners (3-1, 1-1 Big 12) face 15th-ranked Texas (4-1, 1-1) at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.
This is a game a defense spends an entire off-season studying. By the time game week rolls around, they know every offensive tendency and can recite them on command. The second and third options routinely get a chance to shine in the Cotton Bowl.
“I think that’s when you’re operating the best, when you’re not trying to force the ball to any particular guy. You’re taking what they’re giving you,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “Coverages have their weaknesses and it’s up to the receivers and quarterback to find them by going through your read progressions and getting the ball to everybody. I feel that’s when the offenses are at their best.”
After four games, OU has 11 different players that have caught at least three passes and five players have touchdown receptions. Kenny Stills leads in both categories. However, locking onto him gets tougher when Jones shows a willingness and confidence to look elsewhere.
Of course, of those 11 players only Stills, fullback Trey Millard and running backs Dominique Whaley and Brennan Clay have been in the program for more than a year. Those options are filled with first-year players who are about to play on one of college football’s biggest stages.
None of that matters to Heupel.
“You have to anticipate these guys playing well. You have to give them a chance to play hard, play fast and play physical,” he said. “You have to trust your players and that’s what we’ll do on Saturday.”
OU showed a trust in those first-year players against Texas Tech. If they do against Texas, there will not be any more questions about OU’s offensive diversity.