First quarter, red zone among OU's issues

Oklahoma’s passing game has taken a clear step backwards in 2013 after ranking among the nation’s best in 2012. The Sooners are averaging 195.3 passing yards per game after recording 336.46 passing yards per contest a year ago.

Former starter Landry Jones was much-maligned during his time with the Sooners but replacing him has proven much harder than expected. Junior Blake Bell hasn’t found the consistency and production which Sooners fans came to expect with Jones under center.

Here are five revealing stats that show some of the Sooners’ passing game troubles:

First quarter completion percentage: The Sooners offense has struggled mightily in the first quarter this season. Bell is completing 60 percent of his throws and hasn’t thrown a first-quarter touchdown in seven starts. Getting off to slow starts has put OU in the position of having to play from behind in several games this season making it tough for the offense to find any kind of passing rhythm as games progress. Last season, Jones completed 70.6 percent of his throws in the first quarter as the Sooners averaged 7.2 points per first quarter.

Third down conversion percentage: OU’s struggles on third down have been another consistent problem. Only 36.8 percent of Bell’s third down throws end up resulting in first downs. OU’s inability to convert third downs played a key role in its 41-12 loss to Baylor last Thursday, sending the defense back onto the field to deal with the Bears’ explosive offense. Jones was much better on third down for the 2012 Sooners, converting 50 percent of his third-down throws into first downs.

Red zone QBR: Part of the reason OU has had some troubles getting touchdowns inside the opponent’s 20-yard line is because Bell’s raw QBR in the red zone is 35.3. With that, OU has scored touchdowns on 46.3 percent of its red zone possessions. Last season, Jones’ raw QBR in the red zone was 87.8 as the Sooners were much more efficient in the red zone. The 2012 Sooners converted 68.7 percent of its red zone trips into touchdowns.

Expected points added: Bell’s expected points added is 17.11, ranking No. 73 nationally. Simply put, Bell isn’t making a major contribution to the Sooners’ success this season. He’s had great moments, against Tulsa and Notre Dame, but he’s been too inconsistent to rank among the nation’s most productive signal-callers or match Jones’ excellence. Fresno State’s Derek Carr leads the nation at 86.36. Jones’ expected points added was 80.76 in 2012, ranking No. 10 nationally.

First down percentage: Only 30.7 percent of Bell’s completions have gone for first downs. It’s amazing to think how few of Bell’s throws end up moving the chains. OU’s receivers have taken steps backward so the entirety of the blame doesn’t fall on Bell’s shoulders but that doesn’t change the large number of opportunities OU has left on the field in 2013. Last season 39.5 percent of Jones’ throws resulted in a first down as he was able to take advantage of the playmakers at his disposal on the outside.