Sooners must utilize Finch, Hanna

NORMAN, Okla. -- The Sooners didn't play their finest game last weekend, but have a chance to get on track against the Red Raiders, who have lost two straight.

Five key storylines to follow in Oklahoma-Texas Tech:

1. Red zone woes

The Sooners can beat Tech with touchdowns or field goals, but that might not be the case in Manhattan or Stillwater. OU ranks 83rd nationally in converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns, which eventually could get the Sooners beat.

Co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said the offense needs to find an identity in the red zone and settle on a selection of plays it can feel comfortable with. That's been a point of emphasis this week. Success against Tech would help OU's confidence in the scoring zone.

2. Hello, Roy Finch

Finch gave the Sooners a jolt offensively off the bench against Kansas with 58 rushing yards and a touchdown on six carries. And Bob Stoops said this week he expects Finch's role to increase.

Finch's ability to bounce off tacklers could give the red zone offense a boost. On his lone red zone series in Lawrence, Finch capped the possession with an 8-yard touchdown scamper off tackle.

Finch has struggled getting on the field because of the emergence of Dominique Whaley and because of lapses in practice and in the film room with pass protection. But running backs coach Cale Gundy said Finch has been practicing and focusing much better, which should lead to more playing time.

Finch is a special player with the ball in his hands, and when he's on the field, the offense is more explosive. He could be a valuable sidekick to Whaley the second half of the season.

3. Where is James Hanna?

The senior tight end was a bigger part of the offense last season, especially in the red zone. Hanna caught only 18 passes all season, but seven of those were touchdowns. His role in the passing game seemed primed to expand this season. Instead, it's diminished.

With defenses likely to focus their efforts on stopping Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills, Hanna could find some favorable matchups up the middle near the goal line.

4. Get healthy

Surprisingly, the Sooners got banged up playing the worst team in the Big 12. Finch, linebackers Tom Wort and Corey Nelson, wideout Kenny Stills and defensive tackle Casey Walker all had to leave the game in Lawrence with minor injuries. Guard Stephen Good (concussion) and running back Brennan Clay (shoulder) were injured going into the game and sat out.

Nelson had X-rays Sunday, which revealed ligament damage to his wrist but no fractures or breaks. He and Wort, who's been dealing with a back bruise and had to go the hospital over the weekend, both practiced this week and are expected to play, according to Stoops.

Center Ben Habern (broken forearm) remains the only player with a serious injury (he's at least two weeks away from returning). But the Sooners could use a game in which they avoid more nagging injuries. Especially with undefeated Kansas State on deck.

5. Continue the special-teams surge

The Sooners are coming off their best special-teams performance of the season (maybe seasons). Michael Hunnicutt nailed all four field goal attempts to tie a school record; Tress Way pinned the Jayhawks inside the 20 on all three of his punts; Patrick O'Hara booted a touchback; Ryan Broyles had a season-long 36-yard punt return; and the coverage units kept KU from breaking off a long return.

Playing special teams at that level could be the difference in having a good season and a great one.

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

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