NORMAN, Okla.--Oklahoma's passing game has been horrible.
The Sooners know they'll have to be more balanced and make teams pay with their passing game if they hope to compete for a Big 12 title this season. They have the talent to do it but haven't been able to put it together through two games this season. Junior quarterback Blake Bell is poised to start against Tulsa on Saturday after Trevor Knight, the Sooners' Week 1 starter, injured his knee against West Virginia. Here are five things the Sooners could do to improve their passing game heading into their battle with the Golden Hurricane.
Get Jalen Saunders involved more: There’s no question the Sooners are already aiming to get the dynamic senior involved in the game each week, he’s averaging 8.5 targets per game. But OU needs to still need to make their throws to Saunders easier to complete. With the Fresno State transfer’s move to the outside, it’s made it harder to get him the ball in certain situations. He’s been targeted 17 times yet has just seven receptions this season. Last year, when he played exclusively in the slot, he was targeted 76 times for 62 receptions. His move to the outside, at times, appears to have made getting him the football harder than it needs to be.
Run more screen passes: Creative screen passes are relatively easy to complete and it would get Saunders, Damien Williams, Roy Finch, Brennan Clay and the rest of OU’s skill position players in the open field with blockers in front of them. Bell (along with Knight and Kendal Thompson) have the athletic ability to entice defenders and still get the ball away before the pressure gets to them. It's a valuable and easy way to get those quarterbacks confidence without having to go through read progressions.
Continue to challenge defenses with deep throws: Knight and Bell are a combined 2 of 17 on passes of 15 yards or more, yet the Sooners can’t get discouraged with the lack of production on deep throws. There have been several deep passes that have been on the mark yet were dropped by the receiver. OU’s receivers need to be more competitive when the ball is in the air and the Sooners’ coaches can’t stop giving them chances to make big plays on deep throws.
Plan two or three passes per game to Trey Millard: If the Sooners aren’t going to use a traditional tight end, they need to get Millard the ball. Sometimes a tight end can be a quarterback’s best friend and Millard can play that role. He’s caught all three passes thrown his way in 2013 but three passes aren’t enough. Millard is invaluable in the offense and on special teams so it’s understandable not to overload him with responsibilities. But he has the potential to be the Big 12’s best safety net this fall.
Utilize roll outs, get the quarterback on the move: Bell and Knight have the ability to make defenses pay with their feet, so why not get them out of the pocket more? Planned roll outs would force defensive backs and linebackers to make a decision to stay in their coverage abilities or come up to make a play on the quarterback. It’s a real quandary for a defense but OU hasn’t made a point to consistently take advantage of those skills.