The Year in Review: Oklahoma (10-3, 6-3)
By Paul Myerberg // Feb 9, 2012
The first set of numbers that backs up what everyone knows already — that Oklahoma wasn’t the same team without Ryan Broyles:
Record re-injury 8-1
Record post-injury 2-2
The second set of numbers, which includes the entirety of the win over Texas A&M, that backs up what everyone knows already:
Passing offense with 264 of 412 (64.1 percent) for 3,428 yards, 28 touchdowns, 9 interceptions
Passing offense without 101 of 171 (59.1 percent) for 1,114 yards, 1 touchdown, 7 interceptions
I’ve done the math. That’s more losses in four games than Oklahoma had in its first nine games. Before Broyles was lost for the season, the Sooners’ lone loss came thanks to the worst 30 minutes O.U. has played since John Blake. After Broyles tore up his knee in the second half against the Aggies, the Sooners lost to Baylor for the first time in program history and to Oklahoma State for the first time since 2002.
Through nine games, Oklahoma was averaging 8.3 yards per pass attempt; extrapolated over the entire season, that total would have tied O.U. with five other teams for 13th-best in the country. Over their last four games, the Sooners averaged 6.6 yards per attempt; extrapolated over the entire season, that total would have tied O.U. with seven other teams — including Duke and Minnesota — for 85th in the country.
No offense in college football suffered such a drastic change in fortunes thanks to an in-season injury. Other teams suffered painful injuries, mind you, but no team with such offensive potency saw a once-promising campaign run off the rails in quite the same fashion as Oklahoma.
And it was merely one of two crippling injuries the Sooners suffered on the year, joining the ankle injury that ended Dominique Whaley’s lovely season after six games. To that point — and beyond, perhaps — Whaley’s story was the best in college football. A former walk-on, Whaley beat out several top-rated former recruits to land the starting job, and from there ran for 627 yards through the first half of the year.
What Whaley’s injury did is place additional pressure on the passing game. Well, it first placed a tremendous amount of pressure on backup Roy Finch, who fared well in Big 12 play but never quite matched the production Whaley brought to the offense in September and much of October.
But once it became clear that Finch couldn’t quite carry the water, the focus of the offense fell heavily upon the shoulders of Broyles and Landry Jones. And for a few weeks, from Texas Tech through Texas A&M, the offense showed little ill effects from Whaley’s season-ending setback.
The pressure reached its tipping point once Broyles went down against the Aggies. Now, Jones was the focal point of the Oklahoma offense; not that this was necessarily a change, but Oklahoma’s once-and-future Heisman contender couldn’t rally the Sooners towards a Big 12 title without his security blanket in the passing game.
The final month defined Oklahoma’s season; in a nutshell, the Sooners could only weather so many storms before the offense fell apart. And in failing to recapture its early-season form — in the passing game, most notably — Oklahoma enters 2012 with two very significant issues to address.
The first is Jones, as strange as that may sound. He remains the latest in the program’s solid-gold run of stars at the position, but his late-season decline was a troubling speed bump on his road to Heisman-worthy greatness. He’ll again earn such consideration heading into 2012, but Jones must locate a new favorite target to identify on third down and in the red zone.
Hence the second issue: Who will step into Broyles’ shoes as Oklahoma leading receiver? Junior-to-be Kenny Stills is the first name that pops up, seeing that he finished second on the team to Broyles in receptions (61) and receiving yards (849) last fall. Yet Stills’ best games came with Broyles in the rotation; over his last four games, he made 20 catches for 239 yards without a touchdown.
Jaz Reynolds was Oklahoma’s top big-play threat, leading the team with 17.4 yards per reception and twice, against Ball State and Baylor, cracking the 100-yard mark. For Reynolds, it may just be a matter of staying healthy: after breaking out against the Bears, he missed two of Oklahoma’s last three games due to injury.
The freshmen are coming. Bob Stoops and Oklahoma signed five receivers on national signing day earlier this month, a haul paced by five-star Troy Metoyer. Elsewhere, you might cringe at the idea of a freshman playing a substantial role in the passing game — but not at Oklahoma. From Malcolm Kelly to Broyles to Stills, the Sooners have not been shy about throwing a first-year player into the mix.
Season grade: B+ With a healthy Broyles, Oklahoma has a shot at playing for the national title. Not a great chance, mind you, but an 11-1 regular season in Norman might have been enough to life the Sooners past Alabama in the B.C.S. rankings — 11-1 in Stillwater, on the other hand, wasn’t enough for the Cowboys. Instead, O.U. ended its season in the Insight Bowl against Iowa, another team that greatly underachieved over the second half of the season. Everything went according to plan through mid-October. Then everything fell apart. Blame injuries for the issues on offense, but scattered among several vintage performance from the Sooners’ defense were a few duds — Baylor and Texas Tech, for example.
High point A 55-17 win over Texas on Oct. 8. The scoring total was Oklahoma’s third-most in the history of the rivalry. The margin of victory was its third-most under Bob Stoops against the Longhorns, trailing a 63-14 slaughter in 2000 and a 65-13 shellacking in 2003. Last fall’s laugher reminded many of the days when Mack Brown couldn’t sniff Stoops and the Sooners.
Low point The Red Raiders’ win in Norman snapped Oklahoma’s 39-game home winning streak — and snapped it with style, to be honest. A pregame weather delay didn’t slow down Texas Tech, which opened up a 31-7 lead early in the third quarter and held on for a 41-38 win. Baylor won, 45-38, on a late touchdown pass. Oklahoma State won with ease.
Offensive M.V.P. It’s hard not to recognize Broyles, even if he did miss the last four games of the season. As noted above — and everywhere else — the offense did fall apart when Broyles went to the sidelines; on the other hand, when healthy, Broyles was the best wide receiver in the country. With 83 receptions for 1,157 yards and 10 touchdowns through eight-plus games, he was right on pace for similar totals to his 2010 campaign, when Broyles led the nation in receptions. The season might have ended ahead of schedule, but that didn’t stop Broyles from putting his name in the N.C.A.A. record books: he broke Taylor Stubblefield’s mark for career receptions in Oklahoma’s win over Kansas.
Defensive M.V.P. After shuffling in and out of the lineup over his three seasons, starting a combined 18 games, Frank Alexander became a full-time starter as a senior. The result? An all-American and the Big 12′s co-Defensive Player of the Year — sharing the honors with Iowa State’s A.J. Klein — Alexander broke out as a senior, leading the conference in tackles for loss and tying for second in sacks. Clearly, it was simply a matter of time until Alexander reached the sort of talent that was bubbling right under the surface; for Oklahoma, combining the senior with Ronnell Lewis gave the defense the best end pairing in the Big 12.
Stock watch Are you ready? Once again, Oklahoma will enter the fall as the Big 12 favorite. But in a twist, I don’t think that the Sooners will receive the sort of national title praise that typically comes with the territory in Norman. Why? Because of the way the team closed last fall, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Jones in particular has a tremendous amount to prove: while still considered one of the best quarterbacks in the country, he needs to show that offense can excel without Broyles at receiver. On the plus side, coming in under the radar in the national title hunt — at least when compared to recent history — might be the best thing that could happen to Jones and the Sooners.
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Tags: Bob Stoops, Dominique Whaley, Frank Alexander, Jaz Reynolds, Kenny Stills, Landry Jones, Oklahoma, Roy Finch, Ryan Broyles, Troy Metoyer
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