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OU Media Day: Offense Will Look Different, But Will It Look Better?

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Oklahoma’s offense promises to have a much different look this season.

Longtime-coordinator Josh Heupel was let go this offseason as a result of perceived underachievement and misutilization of talent.  Despite finishing 11th in the FBS in rushing yards and 21st in points per game, the Sooners looked clunky at times, even with the emergence of superstar freshman running back Semaje Perine.

OU’s attack got a facelift when the Sooners plucked 31-year-old Lincoln Riley away from the high-powered East Carolina Pirates. Riley learned his trade from current ECU coach Ruffin McNeil and current Washington State coach Mike Leach when they were all back at Texas Tech, lighting up scoreboards together in the 2000s.  

Riley’s Pirates didn’t have the luxury of a back like Perine, but still scored 35.8 points per game last season. ECU’s passing attack, led by now-NFL hopeful Shane Carden, was the third-best in the country, averaging 372 yards per game. Carden threw for 4,736 yards and 30 touchdowns and helped his top target, Justin Hardy, break former OU star Ryan Broyles’ NCAA record for all-time receptions. 

“I see why they (ECU) were successful, OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said of Riley’s offense. “He knows how to utilize his personnel; he knows how to utilize the field. Those are all extremely important ingredients to having a great offense. How to use your personnel, how to space the field, and how to use leverage. Now the players have to go out and execute. But it’s gonna put a lot of stress on defenses.”

Riley's approach will have the OU offense moving at a different rate than it did under Heupel. Instead of letting the clock run down as they adjust to the defenses, Riley wants to call a play and let his personnel make the right read.

"There isn't a lot of checking (in the new system)" coach Bob Stoops said. "But a lot of what we do offensively now in the way that Lincoln runs it, they're in a position to pick up what the defense is giving them with most of our plays. So there will be some checking but not a whole lot of it."

The formula that made up Riley’s pass-happy attack in Greenville will undoubtedly change a bit now that he has arguably the country’s best backfield at his utilization. Perine will be joined by redshirt freshman Joe Mixon, who missed all of last season after he assaulted a woman at a Norman restaurant. Mixon came to Norman last season as one of the top running back recruits in America, and if he lives up to the hype, OU might just plow over everyone.

Riley left no doubt that OU’s running back corps will see heavy action in 2015, declaring that they would be used “a LOT.”

“They’re gonna be tired on Saturday nights and Sunday mornings,” Riley said of OU’s backs. “Those guys are gonna be heavily involved.”

Bob Stoops even suggested that Perine and Mixon could coexist on the field in certain packages.

“There’s definitely a place to have two running backs on the field at the same time,” Stoops said. “And not just those two, the other guys do some different things in different ways that we like.”

While multiple backs will be juggled, the same can’t be said for quarterbacks. Despite OU’s neck-and-neck race between Trevor Knight and Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield, Riley emphasized that once OU settles on a starter, it’ll be a one-man job.

“One good one,” Riley said of what he’s looking for. “I don’t believe in playing two guys just to do it. I think a guy’s gotta be able to have some room to make mistakes and grow.”

Stoops echoed that reasoning.

“I think always you’d prefer to have one guy getting the majority of it all and being the guy, but that guy has to produce,” Stoops said.  “We’ll see where it goes.”

Stoops didn’t tip his hand as to whether one quarterback was leading the race or not, but did indicate that the coaches won’t make a decision until one guy truly emerges.

“The earlier is always the better but we can’t force it until it’s earned,” Stoops said.

The offense will definitely look different. Only time will tell if the results will be, too.

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