Roy Finch falls out of favor

EL PASO, Texas -- In 2009, Oklahoma had a grand plan for Mossis Madu.

The season before, Madu broke out with 114 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the Big 12 championship. Yet with 1,000-yard rushers DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown also returning, the Sooners moved Madu to the slot in the spring.

The goal, the coaches said, was to get Madu more time on the field. Ultimately, he got less.

Enter Roy Finch, who after Saturday is looking more and more like this season's Mossis Madu.

Even though Finch was OU's second-leading rusher the previous two seasons, the Sooners moved him to the slot during the preseason. They even designed a special package of plays for him, which included screens and jet sweeps.

But in OU's 24-7 win at UTEP, Finch didn't touch the ball once. As a matter of fact, he didn't even step on the field for a single offensive snap.

Had the Sooners rolled past UTEP, nobody would have noticed. But they didn't. In fact, into the fourth quarter OU had fewer than 90 yards rushing and only 10 points against one of the worst defenses in college football in 2011.

Given the multitude of miscues, it's doubtful OU would have scored any more with Finch on the field. But it's curious that one of the Sooners' top playmakers was resigned to the bench as their offense sputtered like a conestoga trolling through mud.

Co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell explained that Finch didn't play in El Paso because of poor habits in practice and film study.

"We have a lot of playmakers that can do a lot with the ball," Norvell said. "Roy is going to have to work harder."

This isn't the first time Finch's playing time has been affected on similar grounds. After being instrumental in OU's late-season resurgence in 2010, Finch started off the 2011 season on the sidelines while Dominique Whaley and Brennan Clay shouldered the rushing load. Finch's inadequate attention to detail -- especially in pass protecting for Landry Jones -- was the most given explanation.

Only after Whaley suffered a broken ankle at Kansas State did Finch get his chance. In desperate need of playmaking, OU swiftly made Finch its feature back. And once again, he didn't disappoint. Over OU's final five regular season games, Finch averaged 111 total yards per game, doing his best to keep the Sooners offense above water.

Finch, however, again failed to carry that momentum into the following season. The addition of junior college transfer Damien Williams squeezed Finch out of the backfield rotation entirely during the preseason. And like with Madu, Finch has struggled with learning the nuances of the slot.

"Roy is going to have to practice better to get in the mix," Norvell said. "He's got to do his part to play."

As Norvell suggests, it's on Finch to earn his way back on the field. If the coaches don't trust him, they're not going to play him. That was proven last year; it's being proven again.

That, however, doesn't change one fact: Finch is one of OU's most electric players with the ball in his hands. More so than even Madu.

"Roy is an exciting person to watch," Whaley said last week. "You never know -- sometimes I feel like he doesn't know -- what's about to happen. He just steps and he's that way, just real quick and shifty.

"I feel like he's a big game-changer."

Given how its offense looked Saturday -- and given the firepower of the rest of the Big 12 -- OU will need all game-changers on deck. That includes Finch, who makes the Sooners more explosive when he is on the field -- and not on the sidelines.