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October 21, 2013

HD: OU offense in search of solving passing game woes

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No. 15 Oklahoma needs to be able to throw the football deep with success this Saturday when the Sooners host No. 10 Texas Tech because the Red Raiders certainly can.

Tech hasn't failed to score fewer than 20 points in a game this season, scored at least 30 points six times and at least 50 points twice. Tech ranks second in the nation in passing yards per game (416.4) and averages 41.1 points per game.


video by Eddie Radosevich

"We need to come out and play fast and get points on the board early, stop putting our defense in bad spots," said senior center Gabe Ikard. "That'll be very important against Texas Tech with how explosive their offense is."

Whether it's Davis Webb or Baker Mayfield slinging the pigskin, the Red Raiders play fast, play fierce, play long.

It's the hallmark of Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury play-calling style, a nod directly to his and his players' swagger. Not so long ago, that style was also a large part of OU's offense, though the swagger seemed optional.

With former OU quarterback Landry Jones catching shotgun snaps, an accurate deep pass was always an option, and one co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel didn't shy from calling.

And he hasn't with junior quarterback Blake Bell starting at quarterback. But it's clear throwing the ball deep is not the Sooners' first option. Not anymore.

"Our first goal is to be able to run the ball efficiently," Ikard said. "We've been doing that. You take some of the yardage out of the sacks at Texas, and we're running for a good clip. We've run the ball for over five yards a carry several weeks."

He's right -- even with the sacks. The Sooners are averaging 5.2 yards per rush attempt this season after averaging 4.8 a year ago.

Those four tenths of yard might seem small, but on the field they loom large. OU's offensive line is meaner, nastier and much more intent on imposing its will on defensive lines.

Against Notre Dame, which boasts one of the best defensive lines in the country, OU averaged exactly 5.0 yards per rush and gained over 200 yards on the ground. But the Sooners also had decent quarterback play from Bell against the Golden Domers.

Since then, Bell has looked shaky and thrown three interceptions. What's more is he hasn't been able to connect with his wide receivers down field, and that's a problem.

"We haven't been efficient enough in that area," Ikard said, "and we're going to continue to work and practice every single day and get that better because if we can get our vertical passing game going we can be a very, very good offense."

It became obvious how much Bell is still maturing as a quarterback against Kansas last weekend when the Sooners would dial up a pass of 20 yards or more and Bell would overthrow his receiver or miss him altogether.

But the mistakes he made against the Jayhawks over the last two weeks aren't enough to discourage OU coach Bob Stoops about what kind of quarterback Bell could be with time.

"We had some of those opportunities, and we missed them," said Stoops two days removed from the game at his weekly press conference. "You've gotta be able to convert them. We'll keep going after them, and I believe we will."

They'll have to on Saturday.

The Sooner offense will only have a handful of opportunities to try to beat Tech deep, and those chances dwindle with each unsuccessful deep ball thrown and third down left unconverted. Against Tech, the best defense could mean an outstanding offense.

"Offense is part of the defense," Stoops said. "When you play teams that have these high-powered offenses, you've gotta stay on the field too."

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