Bob Stoops is absolutely right.
"The playcalling has nothing to do with it,” Stoops said after the Sooners' stunning 37-33 loss to TCU on Saturday. There are no magical plays. The bottom line is executing."
Oklahoma could run the same play 10 times with success on five of those and none on the other five. The reaction to the five successful times would tout the play as a “nice call” or “smart.” When it was unsuccessful the reaction would be the exact opposite. Such is football and its bountiful supply of armchair coaches.
But that was the exact case of the OU offense on Saturday, where Oklahoma got away from the run game that served the Sooners so well in the win over West Virginia two weeks ago.
The second half in particular is the timeframe in question. With the game tied at 31, the Sooners threw the ball on 11 of their next 14 offensive plays. The results were two completions for 18 yards, one sack, one interception returned for a touchdown and eight incompletions. The other three plays resulted in a one-yard gain for Alex Ross, a no gain for Trevor Knight and a two-yard gain for Samaje Perine.
What makes that sequence so interesting is the fact OU had moderate success on the ground in the first half (63 yards and two scores) and had run for 60 of the 80 yards in the second half's opening scoring drive. Then, just like that, nothing.
Stoops is right that no play call in and of itself is good or bad; it's the execution. But when you take away the opportunity for players to execute plays and concepts that are clearly working, questions are going to be raised. Besides, Oklahoma wants to be known as a team that can run the football whenever they want. They have a massive, experienced offensive line, talented running back including a monster in Perine and a mobile quarterback, all necessary tools for a big-time run game.
Plus, the game wasn't going how the Sooners wanted it to go. What better way to get things going in the right direction and take control than with long, clock-chewing drives? After all, that's exactly what the Sooners did on the first possession of the second half and it worked like a charm.
Granted, Oklahoma wasn't having the kind of success on the ground it had against West Virginia, but to go that long without giving the ball to a workhorse like Perine and depending on the most experienced, strongest unit on your team to get the job done, is baffling.
Stoops said after the game he didn't have a problem with the play calling and while that may not sit well with upset fans, it was the right thing to say. You don't throw your offensive coordinator under the bus in front of everyone, no matter how you feel about the play-calling. That's a discussion to be had behind closed doors, not with recorders and cameras rolling.
The thing that made Saturday different from the WVU game is Oklahoma never had the opportunity to play offense with the lead. Against the Mountaineers, Oklahoma was up 31-24 right out of the gate in the second half and held that lead the rest of the game. If the OU defense had held TCU to a field goal or no points on the Frogs' opening possession of the second half, and OU came back on offense with a lead, the play-calling would have been different. You can take that to the bank.
And not to state the obvious, but if Knight completes most of those 11 passing plays and doesn't throw an interception, there probably isn't anyone complaining right now.
The problem on Saturday wasn't the play-calling itself. It was the underlying issue. If Oklahoma says it wants to be a dominating, run-oriented football team, it needs to do it. Abandoning the run game is not a smart way to go about accomplishing that goal.