All eyes were on Landry Jones after the Oklahoma offense sputtered following Ryan Broyles' knee injury last November. Tales of Jones' prowess with Broyles and struggles without the All-American receiver became the norm.
Similar things could be said about co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel.
The Sooners' offense averaged 45.4 points and 545.9 yards per game in the nine games Broyles started and just 26.3 ppg and 436.8 yards without him. And, most importantly, OU went 2-2 in those games.
While Heupel is in his second season as co-offensive coordinator and playcaller at OU, the argument could be made that it is essentially his rookie campaign. The Sooners offense was ready-made in 2011, with Jones at the helm and Broyles already established as the main playmaker on the offense. Simply put, getting the former Sooner star the ball was the priority and a proven method to insure success.
This season meant an entirely different offensive attack. Every good offense is going to change each season as the best offensive minds in the nation tweak their offensive attack as the year progresses. Heupel has shown growth in that area this season, thanks in part to an expanded number of playmaking options.
Last season, after Broyles went out, the Sooners' offense lacked an identity. OU couldn’t find a rhythm or make game-changing plays.
The players deserve their share of the blame but Heupel did as well. A midseason move of Kenny Stills to the slot didn't go as planned as the then-sophomore felt uncomfortable and lacked confidence in the role. And the Sooners didn’t find ways to make Jones more confident without his safety net (Broyles) for the first time in his career.
This season, Heupel has seemed much more adaptive. His response to the Sooners' first loss is the perfect example. OU re-evaluated its offense after the 24-19 loss to Kansas State. Heupel took a lot of heat after the loss as many questioned the lack of commitment to the running game and a general lack of creativity overall.
“I don’t know that he listens to that or anything along those lines,” Jones said of criticism of his offensive coordinator, who doubles as his quarterbacks coach. “He knows what type of coordinator he is and what type of coordinator he wants to be.”
The Sooners’ quality game plan against Texas Tech could be an example of the type of coordinator Heupel aims to be. The result was 34 points from the offense and the most impressive showing of the season for the Sooners.
Heupel used the versatility of fullback Trey Millard to create mismatches, made getting the ball in the hands of Sterling Shepard a priority and took advantage of the receiving skills of running back Damien Williams to move the chains. OU converted on 8-of-14 third down conversion attempts, a sign of the overall rhythm and confidence of the offense as a whole.
It was the most resourceful offense approach the Sooners have displayed under Heupel. All great offenses are organic and the Texas Tech game plan was a sign the Sooners offense could possess that trait.
Just as importantly, it made Jones feel comfortable and took him to a place he hasn’t been in a long time.
“I think this is the most in rhythm I have felt in a long, long, long time dating back even last year,” Jones said this week. “I think what we did offensively was great and I think Coach Heupel did a great job of developing a scheme and developing plays for us to get us in rhythm and all these sort of things.”
Heading into the Red River Rivalry against Texas on Saturday at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Sooners fans hope Heupel can use what he’s learned since taking over the offense to knock off UT.
“You always learn, you always get better,” Heupel said. “Each year’s different, where you are at, how you’re growing. You take a lot away [from previous experience] but, at the same time, some of it is new.”
New is a word that could be used to describe different things the Sooners have added to their offense attack each week this season. New wrinkles don’t always mean success. Will it on Saturday? That remains to be seen.