<
>

Sooners struggle in red zone in win

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Good thing Oklahoma has uncovered a reliable field goal kicker. Because lately, the Sooners have been settling for a lot of field goals.

Saturday night against the worst statistical defense in college football, OU's otherwise high-powered offense continued to sputter in the red zone.

Eight times the Sooners drove the ball inside the Kansas 20-yard line. Only thrice did they punch the ball in.

Much good could be gleaned from the 47-17 victory over Kansas. The Sooners stunk it up in the first half and still nearly covered a five-touchdown spread.

Ryan Broyles broke multiple records, including Taylor Stubblefield's NCAA career receptions mark, with a monster 13-catch, 217-receiving yard performance.

After halftime, the defense was phenomenal, limiting Kansas to 54 total yards and a single first down the entire second half.

And Michael Hunnicutt tied an OU single-game record with four field goals.

Alas, that was also the problem, and it overshadowed the rest of the game.

"Sorry we didn't score every time -- we're working on it," coach Bob Stoops said, downplaying the issue. "It's typical, we always score 47, so everyone's like, 'How'd you not get 60? You should've scored every time in the red zone.' "

Outside of Stoops, though, nobody brushed off how the Sooners have been faring inside the 20.

"Right now, it's not very good," said quarterback Landry Jones, who completed 50 percent of his passes in the red zone but was 64 percent everywhere else. "We're just not executing down there."

It's been tough sledding down there for the Sooners all season. Going into the night, OU ranked No. 66 nationally in touchdown conversion rate, a ranking that figures to plummet further following Saturday.

"It needs to be better in the red zone, getting 7s instead of 3s," said offensive coordinator Josh Heupel. "Doing our assignments, couple better play calls, guys finishing blocks, the whole thing. It's not just one guy. "

Credit Heupel for attempting everything in his playbook. He tried pounding the ball with Dominique Whaley. He called screens and fades. He even resorted to chicanery, flexing tackle Donald Stephenson wide left.

But nothing worked consistently.

"We've been in heavy sets and tried to mash it in there, we spread people out and tried to run the ball out of the one-back set," co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach Jay Norvell said. "We have to find ways to put the ball in the end zone down in that tight zone area. It's got to be better."

It's difficult to pinpoint from where OU's red zone struggles stem. But consistent blocking seems to be at the heart of the matter.

In 2008, OU's record-setting offense was automatic in the red zone because it could roll over opposing defenses with future NFL linemen Phil Loadholt, Duke Robinson and Trent Williams. The Sooners are running the ball better in 2011 than 2010. But even against Kansas, OU failed to impose its will at the goal line.

"We have to be better on identifying who we're blocking," Norvell said. "It's something we've made strides in, but also backed off at times."

The Jayhawks weren't near good enough to make OU pay for mishaps in the red zone. But when the Sooners travel back to the Sunflower State -- in two weeks to face Kansas State in a likely battle of unbeatens -- they might not be so fortunate.

Field goals also won't beat Oklahoma State, which dropped eight touchdowns on its first eight possessions last weekend against these very same Jayhawks.

At least the Sooners continued to build confidence in Hunnicutt, a kicker they feel they can rely on. But relying on him too much could doom this team down the road.

"We've just got to find the best way for this team to score with the personnel we have," Norvell said. "It's going to be really important going down the second half of the season."

Jake Trotter covers University of Oklahoma football for SoonerNation. He can be reached at trotterjake@gmail.com. and look for answers every Friday.

Follow SoonerNation's coverage on and .