NORMAN — It’s fitting that Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook and quarterback Baker Mayfield will both be in New York on Saturday. The Heisman Trophy is supposed to go to college football best player. Let’s face it; that’s a misnomer.
The college game’s best quarterback or running back wins it virtually every year. After all, the trophy features a guy toting the ball. All signs point to Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson getting his name etched underneath the trophy Saturday night.
Texas Tech and Louisville put up more yards. The Cardinals and Western Kentucky scored more points. But the best offense is college football belongs to the Sooners. What they did over the final five weeks of the regular season proved it.
In 2008, I thought the Sooners played offensive football at a level I’d never see again. OU averaged 51.1 points a game. Sam Bradford won the Heisman Trophy with the highest single-season passer rating in NCAA history. DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown both rushed for over 1,000 yards.
That group ushered in college football’s up-tempo age. The goal was to snap the ball 100 times a game. The pace was rapid from start to finish.
Since late October, the Sooners have abandoned the high gear in the second half of games.. They’ve become a ball-control offense. Dominating time of possession became important for a team ravaged by defensive injuries and inexperience.
The transition was flawless. Oklahoma State snapped the ball just 62 times last Saturday. The Sooners played solid defense in the second half. But the biggest reason OSU was flustered was that it didn’t have the ball. OU had a nearly 10 1/2 minute time of possession edge.
The Sooners did the same thing in their showdown with West Virginia on Nov. 19. In a 60-minute game, OU possessed the ball for nearly 40 minutes of it.
In 2008, the Sooners had one gear. They ran in overdrive from start to finish. Besides the abundance of talent, that’s why they set all those records.
Up-tempo offenses were new then. Most opponents only faced something similar a few times a year. Defenses struggled to get lined up. OU feasted on the indecision.
The Sooners showed they didn’t need to fool anyone this season. They wore teams down in the second half by pounding away. Oklahoma State felt the pain of those body blows. OU rushed for 300 yards in the second half of that one. Most of those runs came with around 10 seconds left on the play clock.
Make no mistake, the Sooners can still play fast. Two Bedlam touchdown drives took less than 61 seconds. But it was long, time-consuming marches in the second half that defined that game and what OU's done since that wild offensive shootout against Texas Tech.
It’ll be interesting to see what OU does going forward. They toyed with slowing the offense down in 2014. It didn’t always produce great results.
But OU enters the Sugar Bowl meeting with Auburn having held its last five opponents to 28 points or less.
“We played really well together as a team again,” OU coach Bob Stoops said after the Bedlam game. “The defense was getting stops and the offense was chewing up the clock. When you can eat up the clock and keep picking up first downs when they know you’re gonna hand the ball off, that’s a big positive to close out like that.”
Whether it’s Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State or Washington who wins the national title in January, they’ll do it in the manner Stoops described.
OU has hit on a formula that typically leads to bigger things than a conference title. Offenses that play at any speed can control games. Maybe it took OU too long to figure that out in 2016. But Westbrook and Mayfield are both in New York this weekend because the Sooners’ offense functions at a level that’s rarely seen.
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