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Dean's Blog: Sooners Must Solve Quarterback Quandary

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OU's offense has been stuck in the mud the past two games. Just two touchdowns and 20 points since leading TCU 13-0 at half: Brennan Clay's 76-yard run against TCU and a TD following a Roy Finch kickoff return to the Texas 27 yard line. Zero sustained drives and a shade over three points a quarter. Anyone seen a Pistol?

There have to be better options than putting a QB with happy feet and struggling to complete a pass in the pocket as a sitting duck against a motivated Texas defense with its ears pinned back. Sprints, rolls, boots, nakeds, moving pocket. Or, the bench, and next guy up. Anything but dropping straight back a QB who was feeling the pressure of the moment and the pressure of the rush, needing time that wasn't there and receivers who couldn't separate. I'm betting if given the option, UT DC Greg Robinson would've selected the same plays OU OC Josh Heupel selected when he consistently put Bell in the pocket.


What's the old saying that if you've got two QBs you've got none? Well, what if you've got three? To me, three is better than two or one. Assuming they can play a little and the whistleblowers don't botch it up. The OU coaches have tough decisions. Because the defense we saw through halftime of the TCU game is not the defense we're going to see the rest of the way. No Corey Nelson, no Jordan Phillips, no 'first-to-20-wins' from after the trip to Lawrence. Teams like Tech, Baylor and O-State are going to score more than 17 points. So, the offense must match that, plus one. The combination of offense and defense we saw in Dallas would result in a 50-plus to 20 game in Waco. The coaches must find answers, including whom to play when, and in what system?


What would I do? Punt. No, I'd do just the opposite. I'd be proactive and find as many answers Saturday at KU as possible. Steady tests await. I'd start by ramming freshman running back Keith Ford north and south until it's stopped or you hear "uncle" and re-establish a physical presence and a physical mindset. I'd call a play in the huddle and change it to a run or a pass if necessary quickly and not come to a grinding halt at the line of scrimmage, determined to outsmart your defensive counterpart with the perfect play. Go! I'd hand it, pitch it, reverse it, hitch it, bomb it, or whatever it calls for to get the ball to wide receivers Sterling Shepherd and Jalen Saunders.

Regardless the quarterback, I'd get any and all those guys out of the pocket. They aren't Jason White, Sam Bradford or Landry Jones. They're Blake Bell, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson. And they aren't capable-- or aren't yet ready--of 15-25 times a game, standing ten yards deep, working through progressions, finding mostly short receivers, running posts, crossers, skinnies, corners, digs, etc. Balls that aren't the catch-and-release variety or throws that are made easier by allowing them to utilize a moving pocket or have the option of tucking it and running should no one break open. Or, if the space opens up. Asking these guys, at this stage, to stand tall and make their mark with NFL type throws is like asking Landry Jones to base his game around zone read. It can get claustrophobic back there at times. These cats are mobile. Sprint them out. Roll them out. Put them in run-pass options, called runs. Talk about stunning a defense. There's not been much sprint-out or roll-out around here since Bobby "The Worm" Warmack befuddled defenses in the 60's hitting a playmaker like Eddie Hinton on the move—an easy throw and catch and more times than not your twenty-plus yard "explosive plays" that this team desperately needs. Hitting a tight end like Steve Zabel was easy but scary for anyone not wearing crimson headgear. But don't get me started on throwing to a tight end. Got a book coming on that one. After they get me out of my straight-jacket.

I'd run less slow-developing plays and have more deception. I'd have a couple of gadget plays. And I'd run them, not just have them for giggles in practice. I'd have someone put a gun to my head until I'd called at least two draws and two screen passes a game. The absence of that in Dallas was bumfuzzling to this scholar. And I'd get really creative. Shock the world. I'd get under center and run QB sneak, not only on short-yardage, but anytime at anyplace. Keep ‘em guessing. At worst it's second and nine. I'd darned sure run it EVERY time it's third or fourth and less than a yard.

And finally, I'd make a decision whether I was going to hitch my wagon to Bell, start one of the others, or play two of them. If I felt it too risky to replace Bell, a popular leader and gamer, I'd start him and put him in situations that are tailored to his abilities. The guy has some talent. But on the second series I'd put in Knight and run Pistol option down after down after down. Or Thompson, if that's who the coaches believe gives them the best chance to outscore Tech, Baylor and OSU. I'd put him on the corner, run QB draws, QB leads—all the stuff discussed earlier. I would NOT put either youngster in the pocket other than when it was critical to the plan.

I'd stick with that a couple of series at minimum. Then trot the Big Boy back in. Doesn't matter if I didn't make a first down or fumbled each series, I'd stick with it. Nothing like game reps. And Kansas is the closest thing to reps as the Sooners will see for a while.

What we've seen the past six quarters is hard to watch. And harder to win with. Standing pat does not seem to be an option. Hard choices await the gents who make the big bucks. Bob Stoops has a track record with QBs that's almost spotless. And it's imperative that streak continue. A flailing team with indecision at QB after a roaring start is about as bad as it gets. It's imperative that he be the one to make the final call. And that it be wise. Becauase it's the single biggest determining factor for whether this team finishes closer to 11-1 or 8-4.


Texas indeed dictated on the few option plays called that the QB hand off rather than keep. But offenses can dictate by formation and a loaded blocking scheme that the QB runs with the football. Not to mention QB draws, QB leads, run-pass options on sprint or roll-out pass calls.

It was stunning that Knight (or even Thompson, although he's not taken a game snap) wasn't inserted to attack a previously-horrendous Texas defense against the QB run. The linebacker play from UT had been a disaster against lesser running QBs than Knight. If he was good enough to have won the job over a popular, experienced junior, and if your QB is not making plays with his feet, his arm or his head, Texas had to be elated that the Sooners simply stayed the course, completing six of the ugliest quarters of offensive football seen in these parts since John Blake took a hike.


And then there's the delay of game penalty inside the five on the final drive. Nothing is more frustrating that to be trailing by 16 points with precious seconds ticking off the clock only to see all 11 offensive players staring impatiently at the sideline waiting for a play call. A long way in the wrong direction from the up-tempo attack-attack-attack system to one that is painfully deliberate, painfully unproductive and painfully lacking in explosive plays. Twenty-yard catch and run completions once upon a time were greeted by courtesy golf claps by the spoiled fandom. Now, a 20-yard play is reason to immediately call for a day off school and campus sock-hops. Those chunk plays of Bradford and Jones and Company allowed for no-huddle and proactive play-calling. Second and nine and 3rd and 6 now produce gnashing of teeth and eeny-meeny-miny-mo. Worst, it's mid-October and this current OU team is gonna need to be capapble of scoring fifty points every time out if it has dreams of a ninth Big 12 title.


Case McCoy won the QB battle and threw a couple of Hail Mary beauties. But if Case were Colt on three open throws Texas would've scored closer to 57 than 36.


OU took full advantage of its extra week to prepare for Notre Dame and installed a terrific game plan. The Sooners were as prepared as any OU team I'd seen in some time. Texas had 21 days between its win over Kansas State and the OU game. Mack Brown said the Longhorns used a good portion of this period, including "some days of the Iowa State week" to practice for OU. It showed. They were fundamentally much more solid than the Sooners.


UT also played harder, more determined and with more passion than the Sooners, who clearly had listened to every single ‘expert' predict not only a Sooner win, but a blowout. Multiple Sooners have said they didn't play as hard as they should have and didn't want it as much as Texas did. Unacceptable and a stunning reversal for a Stoops team on Texas week. This is more on the players than coaches, but both must be accountable.

While 19 seniors in Austin backed up their game-week claims of being "angry" and "p____ed off" about the 80-point shellacking they'd received the past two games against OU, the Sooners were talking of "looking forward to beating Texas four straight years." This OU team is not good enough to not play with that ‘edge' that Stoops brought to Norman in 1999.


If the braintrust figures things out, put the right people in the right position to make plays, and the ‘edge' that helped usher in the Stoops Era in 1999 and distinguishes winners from losers, a Fiesta Bowl berth is possible. Saturday is the beginning to the second season. We'll soon find out if the coaches determined Bell's past six quarters of unproductive play is something that can be corrected and that he's gonna be the guy, hell or high-water. Or if one of the other options is needed—fulltime, or in a substituting fashion. The head ball coach has made a call: Door No. 1. Door No. 2. Or Door No. 3. Choosing the right QB or combination of QBs is the only way this bunch has a chance to win out. Scoring 20 points will leave them staring at 8-4. And while it could all start Saturday in Lawrence, it more likely started earlier this week in the head ball coaches' office. Door No. 1, Door No. 2 or Door No. 3? Choosing the right QB—or QB combination—is the key to unlocking the midseason quandary that lingers in Norman.

Pistol Pete….

The Pistol will shoot OU in the foot with Blake Bell. The Big Man On Campus can be a winning QB but the coaches proved with their play-calling and comments afterward that Bell is not someone they want routinely on the edge in pitch-or-keep mode. And while he struggled mightily with multiple aspects of the passing game in Dallas, Bell is skilled enough to execute a specific offense that he can use to beat Kansas and some of the remaining opponents. But if the coaches didn't have the faith to run option in Dallas and are leery of a legitimate passing game with big boy throws, then what they aren't saying speaks volumes.


And no, they don't call the same plays regardless of what QB is in. Put Knight in a pure option-heavy Pistol plan and he'll move the chains and run for 100 yards. Perhaps Thompson. But was Knight's unsuccessful, albeit limited passing an example of what we'd see in Games 6-12? Or an aberration? Troy Aikman stunk in his debut in Lawrence. Turned out to be a pretty nice QB. Knight played one-half of his two games he started injured, which seems to have been forgotten in the trashing he took when he failed to throw the football effectively—but not any worse than we've seen the past six quarters. Maybe the reality winds up being this: the QB of the future has not taken a snap yet. That trio includes Thompson, intriguing true freshman Cody Thomas and Edmond Santa Fe duel-threat commit Justice Hansen. Nothing bad with the upside of that scenario. But if that's the case, the next six games might not be so spiffy.


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