Big 12 efficiency ratings: OU’s offense rolling again, though not like the Lincoln Riley days

Big 12 efficiency ratings: OU’s offense rolling again, though not like the Lincoln Riley days

Berry Tramel: Much has been made about the Sooner defense returning to its former splendor. But don’t forget the offense. The offense’s return to force status is no small thing.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Oct 17, 2023, 6:09am CDT

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Oct 17, 2023, 6:09am CDT

Bob Stoops fired Josh Heupel in January 2015 and a few days later hired Lincoln Riley to coordinate the OU offense. Think what you will of Riley. Revel in your favorite Notre Dame victory ever (48-20 over Riley’s Southern Cal Trojans on Saturday). Stick a trillion pins in a Riley voodoo doll.

But you never can question Riley’s offenses.

The Sooners finished fourth in Big 12 efficiency in each of Heupel’s final two seasons as Stoops’ coordinator. Then Riley arrived, and OU not only zoomed to the No. 1 slot among Big 12 offenses, not only stayed there the entirety of Riley’s seven years in Norman, but put up numbers that we’re unlikely to ever see again.

In my offensive efficiency system, a percentage of .400 is winning offense. A percentage of .500 is great offense. 

Riley’s three Baker Mayfield offenses had efficiency ratings of .496, .531 and .542. The 2018 Kyler Murray had an efficiency rating of .624!  Riley’s final three OU offenses had ratings of .536, .475 and .453.

Then Riley caught the last train for the coast, and OU’s offense cratered. The Sooners had a rating of .321, eighth in the 10-team Big 12. Sure, some of that lack of production was courtesy of Dillon Gabriel missing 1½ games with a concussion. But even with Gabriel, the OU offense was nowhere close to the Riley standard. 

Much has been made about the Sooner defense this season returning to its former splendor. But don’t forget the offense. The offense’s absence from Big 12 domination hasn’t been long; nothing like the defense’s departure from OU pride. Still, the offensive slippage was more than noticeable as the Sooners stumbled to a 6-7 record last season. And the offense’s return to major-force status is no small thing.

Through three games, OU’s offensive efficiency is a healthy .418, third-best in the Big 12 behind Texas (.469) and Kansas (.447). And that comes with the Sooners facing two of the Big 12’s best defenses (UT and Iowa State) and another (Cincinnati’s) that is solid.

So that .418 number figures to rise.

The OU offense remains a project. The tailback run game is stuck in low gear. Flanker Andrel Anthony is lost for the season with a knee injury, costing Gabriel his best deep threat. 

But Brent Venables was pleased with his offensive line after the Sooners beat Texas 34-30 on Oct. 7.

We kept the quarterback clean,” Venables said. “The one sack that I think they put in from a statistical standpoint was really a quarterback run for minus-one. 

“They did a great job. Not much disruption. They had a good, firm pocket. Dillon did a good job from a pocket awareness standpoint. We feel like we’ve got eight or nine guys (up front) who can play winning football. That’s a group of guys that got in there and got a chance to do it. They did a nice job.”

The OU running game remains a major concern. The Sooners rank ninth in the 14-team Big 12 in rushing, with 164.8 yards per game. Much of that production was padded by 220 rushing yards against hapless Arkansas State.

Tailbacks Tawee Walker, Marcus Major, Javontae Barnes and Gavin Sawchuk have combined for 632 yards on 159 carries, 3.97 yards per carry. 

But Gabriel has been excellent. He leads the Big 12 in quarterback rating and also leads in passing yards (1,878), touchdown passes (18) and completion percentage (.723), the latter if you don’t count Kansas’ oft-injured Jalon Daniels, who has thrown just 75 passes all season.

Here are the latest Big 12 efficiency ratings, and remember my metric. Offenses are judged by what they do with possessions. Touchdowns get a full credit, field goals get a half credit, and those totals are divided by possessions. For defense, it’s the same — your opponents’ offensive efficiency.

Offense

  1. Texas .469: The Longhorns scored just two touchdowns on OU, so they cleaned up on Baylor and Kansas.
  2. Kansas .447: Remarkable that the Jayhawks have kept up this kind of progress largely without Daniels. 
  3. Oklahoma .418: Seems likely this number will soar after playing Central Florida on Saturday.
  4. Kansas State .417: KSU changed quarterbacks to light up Texas Tech on Saturday. Is Avery Johnson, who ran for five touchdowns against the Red Raiders, the permanent starter?
  5. Central Florida .371: Another backup QB success story. Timmy McClain has shone well in relief of injured star John Rhys Plumlee. 
  6. Iowa State .351: The Cyclones have come alive.
  7. Oklahoma State .346: So have the Cowboys.
  8. Texas Tech .344: Backup quarterback Behren Morton, who has started in Tyler Shough’s absence, was injured against K-State. So the Red Raiders resorted to third-teamer Jake Strong.
  9. TCU .333: Did the Horned Frogs find a QB in Josh Hoover, who had a big game in the Horned Frogs’ 44-11 rout of Brigham Young, in relief of injured starter Chandler Morris?
  10. West Virginia .329: The Mountaineers are old school; they are averaging 25 passes a game.
  11. Houston .303: The Cougars’ offense came alive against West Virginia but was helped by a kickoff return for a touchdown.
  12. BYU .279: Where have you gone Gifford Nielsen?
  13. Cincinnati .203: Remarkable that the Bearcats have this meager of an offense and are not the conference’s worst.
  14. Baylor .200: Ouch. Bears in danger of falling below the Mendoza line of .200. Kansas (five times) is the only Big 12 school in the last 10 years that finished under .200 offensive efficiency.

Defense

  1. TCU .204: Wow. This is excellent defense. But it helps that the Horned Frogs have played Houston, West Virginia and BYU. This number will rise.
  2. Oklahoma .221: The Sooners have Texas out of the way. This number could last awhile.
  3. Texas .235: The Longhorns have OU out of the way. This number could last awhile.
  4. Iowa State .281: Even when the Cyclones were struggling early in the season, defense wasn’t the issue.
  5. West Virginia .300: The Mountaineers ranked No. 1 last week. These things can change fast.
  6. Texas Tech .315: The Red Raiders were blistered for five touchdowns and a field goal in 12 Kansas State possessions. That’s disturbing.
  7. Oklahoma State .333: Not great, but fairly solid. And some weak offenses await.
  8. Kansas State .333: KSU has been fortunate — it faced a backup quarterback vs. UCF and half the Texas Tech game.
  9. Cincinnati .371: UC is better than this number — the Bearcats held OU to 20 points on 11 possessions.  
  10. Baylor .441: This is some bad defense — and the Bears still are beating four other Big 12 defenses. 
  11. BYU .448: This defense has to get a lot better and fast, if the Cougars are going to have success.
  12. Kansas .452: KU gave up eight scoring drives (four TDs, four field goals) in 13 possessions against OSU. 
  13. Houston .471: The Cougars made land-locked West Virginia QB Garrett Greene look like a gunslinger.
  14. Central Florida .548: Hey, UCF. Big 12 defenses have gotten a lot better in recent years. This percentage is unacceptable.

Predictions

Another feature of the efficiency ratings is the ability to predict a score, based on the percentages. It’s not a great metric for picking a winner, but it’s not bad at showing you what kind of game it might be. 

Central Florida at Oklahoma: Sooners 37-22. Will Plumlee finally return from injury?

Oklahoma State at West Virginia: Mountaineers 29-28. I’d be a little surprised if it’s this high-scoring.

Texas at Houston: Longhorns 36-21. I’d guess that Texas scores a lot more than this.

Texas Christian at Kansas State: Horned Frogs 28-26. Should be a fun one in this 2022 Big 12 Championship Game rematch.

Texas Tech at Brigham Young: Red Raiders 29-24. BYU’s offense is hit-and-miss. 

Baylor at Cincinnati: Bearcats 25-22. A dreadful game, but again, I’d be inclined to say it won’t be this high-scoring.

 

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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