Jenni: OU’s offensive woes are fixable. Why not celebrate the Cincy victory?

Jenni: OU’s offensive woes are fixable. Why not celebrate the Cincy victory?

OU won Saturday afternoon in a game it would have lost last year. You couldn’t tell that, of course, from some of the reaction to the Sooners’ 20-6 win at Cincinnati.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Sep 26, 2023, 5:00am CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Sep 26, 2023, 5:00am CDT

Watching the OU-Cincinnati game on TV gave me a chance to have a multi-screen experience.

I was able to check social media quite a bit during the Sooners’ victory — way more than when I’m at the game — and it was interesting Saturday. There were times during the second half when the vibe on social media would’ve led you to believe the Sooners were losing by double digits.

Angst had a crimson and cream tint.

In reality, the Sooners never trailed in the final three quarters.

But even as the OU defense turned in one of its best performances in years, the OU offense caused wailing and gnashing of teeth. There were highs, namely 427 yards of total offense and Sooner quarterback Dillon Gabriel throwing for over 300 yards, but there were lows. Six of OU’s 11 possessions didn’t even cross midfield. Five trips inside the 20-yard line resulted in only 20 points.

“I thought we shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times,” Gabriel said. “It’s just learning experiences, but I’m really proud of our defense and how they played. They played their butt off, and a win is a win, so we’re happy for it. 

Sooner fans should be, too.

No doubt the offense had its struggles Saturday, but before we dissect them, a bit of perspective is in order. For the second time this season, OU found itself in a one-score game in the second half. It happened against SMU, then at Cincinnati. In both instances, the momentum was swinging away from the Sooners. 

But both times, OU answered with a touchdown, a defensive stop and then another score (a touchdown against SMU, a field goal against Cincy). Both wins came with two-touchdown margins.

That type of resilience was lacking a year ago when the Sooners lost five games by a touchdown or less last season. 

This season, the Sooners are turning close games into double-digit victories.

“Finding ways to win in games where there might be a struggle or adversity, that’s important,” Gabriel said. “And then seeing us compliment each other as well. The defense played their butt off. I want to emphasize that. They played unreal. They get three fourth-down stops. … And the game was close, so those were important.”

And the Sooners did that on the road in front of home-team fans hyped for their first game in a Power Five conference and without three starters. Linebacker Justin Harrington, safety Reggie Pearson and offensive lineman Savion Byrd didn’t make the trip to Cincinnati because of injuries.  

R Mason Thomas, back-up defensive end, was also not on the trip.

All four of those guys would’ve played quite a few snaps against the Bearcats, but even without them, the Sooners managed.

Now, of course, they weren’t perfect. The offense was herky-jerky. In its five possessions that got inside the Bearcat 20-yard line, the Sooners amassed 369 yards. In the other six possessions, they had only 57.

That’s a crazy high discrepancy.

I went back and looked at all of the Sooners’ possessions, and the ones that ended without points had various maladies. Fumbles. Overthrows. But the most consistent factor: third-and-long situations.

On the first possession of the game, the Sooners got into a third-and-9 after a run went for minus-4 yards on first down and a swing pass only managed 5 yards on second down. Third down was an incomplete pass, then OU punted.

The next possession OU was forced to punt, it had an incompletion on first down — Gabriel was hurried and had to throw the ball away — followed by a run for minus-1 yard on second down. Facing 3rd-and-9, the Sooners had an incomplete pass, then another punt.

On OU’s next possession, the Sooners faced a third-and-10 after Gabriel flipped a backward pass and missed the receiver. The ball rolled out of bounds, averting disaster, but the play lost 5 yards. Gabriel connected with tailback Marcus Major on third down, but he didn’t get enough for a first down. Punt.

Every time the Sooners were forced to punt, they faced at least 3rd-and-6, and in all but one instance, it was 3rd-and-9 or more.

OU’s inconsistent offense at Cincinnati boils down to being better on first and second down.

I’m not sitting here suggesting that it’s an easy thing to do, but it’s doable. Getting 2 or 3 yards a play instead of going backward is way more attainable than saying OU needs to blow up its offensive schemes or overhaul its entire philosophy. 

Truthfully, the offensive woes largely come down to small mistakes that are fixable. Frankly, I believe that’s true of just about everything that stunted the Sooner offense Saturday. 

Sort of like Gabriel’s run game. Take away sacks and scrambles, and he rushed the ball eight times Saturday, and most of the runs were great. Draws for 7 and 11 yards. A zone-read option for 12 yards. A tough 1-yard touchdown. A fourth-down conversion on an option play.

But then, Gabriel had a disastrous fumble at the Cincy 10-yard line.

“That was a frustrating part,” Sooner offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby said. “That kind of summed up the day for us offensively — just finding ways to mess it up.”

Apparently, fans on the interwebs weren’t the only angsty ones.

But in a game where the Sooners again responded when times got tough, on an afternoon OU won a game that it may well have lost a year ago, there were reasons to feel good about this team.

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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