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Oklahoma football changes up pace, not offense

Wednesday, August 27, 2008 | 11:12 p.m. CDT; updated 2:47 p.m. CST, Thursday, January 15, 2009

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops doesn’t want outsiders to get the wrong impression. This isn’t a half-baked reaction to a whim of sudden doubt. The Sooners’ new no-huddle wrinkle represents a necessary adjustment to enhance his program in a college football landscape that suddenly finds itself too much in a haste to tap its wristwatch.
Yet don’t dare assume he’s ripping out an established foundation and constructing anew.
“I think some people have the misconception that we changed our offense,” said Stoops, who is entering his 10th season in Norman. “If we had, there would have been a lot of planning involved with it. But we’re not changing our offense.
“It’s more just changing the tempo and doing what we want to do when we choose to do it.”
Stoops and his staff hope the choice delivers the Sooners their third consecutive Big 12 Conference championship. With 15 starters returning (nine on offense, six on defense) and sophomore quarterback Sam Bradford as a legitimate Heisman Trophy hopeful, Oklahoma’s coaches envision a new no-huddle approach complementing a spread system that averaged 42.3 points per game last year, second best in the conference.
The move doesn’t mark a need for drastic change, because in recent years, Oklahoma has achieved steady gains in offensive production. In 2005, Oklahoma averaged 26.9 points, sixth best in the conference behind Big 12 South foes Texas (No. 1), Texas Tech (No. 2) and Texas A&M (No. 3). A year later, the Sooners totaled 30.3 points per game for the conference’s fifth-best attack, behind Big 12 South opposition Texas (No. 1), Oklahoma State (No. 2) and Texas Tech (No. 3).
Last year, aided by Bradford’s 3,121 passing yards and 36 touchdowns, Oklahoma climbed to No. 2, trailing only Kansas; the Sooners’ average was the highest under Stoops since 2003, when Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jason White led an attack that produced 42.9 points per game.
“If you look at our scoring production, it has been awfully good,” Stoops said. “I don’t think it has anything to do at all with keeping up with anybody.”
How much fans see of Oklahoma’s no-huddle approach will depend upon game management. Stoops said he doesn’t envision using the no-huddle for a full 60 minutes the way Big 12 North favorite Missouri does. Rather, it will give the Sooners an additional option in an attempt to dictate tempo when appropriate scenarios allow.
However, questions might arise with such adjustments. Bradford struggled during the earliest stages of his acclimation, throwing three interceptions in April’s spring game. In addition, some are skeptical a talented and experienced offensive line will lose its edge against aggressive defenses eager to exploit their inexperience with the system. The receiving corps, which will have to replace all-Big 12 second-team selection Malcolm Kelly after the Washington Redskins drafted him in the second round, 51st overall, will face a learning curve as well.
“Obviously, it does kind of increase the tempo and it gives us a chance to have more plays a game,” Bradford told reporters during Big 12 media days in July. “It is still football. You still have to take care of the football, and you still have to put points on the board. So you can’t really lose sight of that, and you have to play within yourself no matter how fast you are going.”
Bradford seeks to continue his rapid ascent. After a redshirt season in 2006, the 6-foot-4, 218-pound Oklahoma City native led the nation in passing efficiency last year with a 176.53 rating and completed 22 consecutive attempts over two games early in the season, two short of the NCAA record. He also threw multiple touchdown passes in all but three of the Sooners’ 14 games.
“It’s my job to have him not press the issue,” Stoops said. “We want him to play similar to like he did last year and lead the nation in pass efficiency again. Statistically, I don’t think there’s a lot of improvement to make. But I think, naturally, he’s stronger, he’s bigger and he’s throwing the ball with more confidence and really throwing well.”
He’ll need to for Oklahoma’s transition to a no-huddle approach to work. Expectations remain high — the school’s eighth national championship is not out of the question — despite a nod to the sport’s growing hurried pace.
“We have had a fair amount of success here doing what we’re doing,” Stoops said. “We don’t intend to change that. Obviously, there are different reasons for us to experiment with it, and we will see how much more we will do of it, but it has nothing to do with anybody else.”
Missourian reporter Andrew Astleford just returned from an internship with the Washington Post and wrote this story as a member of its staff.


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