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September 25, 2012

Heupel honest about offensive struggles

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This week in Oklahoma football can probably be dubbed, 'Fall on your sword week' for Oklahoma's offensive staff and players. As Landry Jones was open and honest about his shortcomings during a Monday press conference which followed the Sooners 24-19 loss to Kansas State, co-offensive coordinator and play caller, Josh Heupel came in for his hara-kiri moment and did pretty much the same.

"Anytime you walk off the field it's black and white. You look at the scoreboard and you know if you did your job or you didn't," said Heupel. "Last Saturday night I didn't.

"At the end of the day, if you're not scoring points, that's my job and I've got to find a way to get these guys in position to score points and to play better. That's my job."

Fortunately for members of the media, Heupel's ritualistic sacrifice didn't end with a beheading. We still had questions after all. Most notably, how he'll go about fixing this offense, and his quarterback, which both appear to be broken right now.

"It's really not overhaul changes, it's really just being better at the everyday average, normal things and just operating at a high level when you're doing those things," Heupel explained. "Trust me, that performance the other night, it's not good. I understand that. But at the end of the day it's not like we're not doing anything well either.

"We need to operate efficiently in the redzone, we need to take care of the ball, we've got two three-and-outs where you hurt yourself, we've got penalties that put you behind the chains and guys have to take care of the ball. You do those things it's a little bit different of a ballgame"

The question that continues to haunt the OU fanbase is how this offense, and a fourth-year starter at quarterback can sputter so much.

Heupel pointed out the turnovers, he pointed out the fact OU had to drive the length of the field most of the night, he pointed out the fact Kansas State ran a ball controlling offense the entire night.

All true.

But fans don't want to hear OU had few opportunities because of the flow of the game. The ugly truth of the loss is not just OU turning the ball over, it was also Kansas State eating up the clock, punting OU back into their end of the field. Then when the turnovers happened, OU couldn't make up that ground.

There was a rhyme and a reason for the loss. But the loss also sheds a light on all the things Oklahoma, and their coaches, didn't want to admit after a lackluster performance in the season opener. The truth is, this offense isn't very good for a variety of reasons. Heupel can finally admit that publicly.

Now it's up to him to fix it.

"You're trying to find a way to give yourself the best opportunity to score as many points as possible and to play at a high level," said Heupel of his focus moving forward. "We're trying to find 11 guys that are going to do that. Play clean, play fast, play hard, play physical, we're trying to find that."

But the hard questions for Heupel is which players are best served to be the most involved. Kenny Stills has made enough plays to warrant a starring role. Sterling Shepard is coming on strong. Damien Williams is a home run hitter at running back. Roy Finch continues to do some explosive things with the ball in his hands.

Then there's the situation with Jones. He's the quarterback. He's the distributor. He's the head of the snake if you will. He's also the guy the young, inexperienced players will look to for answers.

"I think what Landry can impress upon them is that you lose one and don't let that turn to two. Come back, compete hard, learn from your mistakes, get better," said Heupel of how his quarterback can prove to his teammates that things will get better. "One ball game, good or bad, doesn't dictate or predict what's going to happen the following week. That's where we're at as a program and we've got to keep working."

As for all those other players who need touches, who deserve touches?

"You've got to find a way to put the skill guys in a position to be successful and try to find out the guys who are going to play consistent, that are going to do their job and take care of the football," said heupel. "You're working through that early in the year when you've got a bunch of skill guys that haven't been around.

"You're continuing to see the identity of who our guys are and how we get them to the ball."

The simple truth is, if Jones doesn't perform at a higher level, this offense will continue to look like it is trying to run before it can walk. That might be the best way to describe their performances against UTEP and Kansas State this season.

When Bob Stoops said he wouldn't consider benching Jones under any circumstances, that wasn't a message about competition. That was a message to his offensive staff.

This is your quarterback. This is who you have to work with.

Figure out how to work with him.

That's what OU's other co-offensive coordinator, Jay Norvell, says is happening right now.

"Landry does a lot of things well as a quarterback," said Norvell. "We want to get him to do those things and get back to doing it. Some things we can do schematically with that, running the ball and play action and moving the pocket a little bit for him where he can get the ball out of his hands. He does a great job when he can do that quickly.

"Any quarterback, when they make completions, they get confidence, so we're going to try and do those things and build his confidence and get him in rhythm and also get the ball in the hands of some of our other guys."

Oklahoma's schedule got a lot more difficult after what we've seen through three games this season. There is plenty of panic to go around. Games in Lubbock and against the Longhorns in Dallas once seemed to be very winnable games.

Will the Sooners even be favored in Lubbock? Maybe. But not by much.

Heupel and Norvell have two weeks to get this offense tuned up. The sputtering can't continue. The fact so many are willing to fall on their swords tells you they understand how important that is.



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