NORMAN, Okla. — In 2008, Oklahoma’s offense put up historic numbers. They scored more points than any team had before it. The revolution that ended the huddle for college football offenses was sparked by that team.
Prolific offenses were standard in the years since Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Sam Bradford led the Sooners to their third Big 12 Conference championship in three seasons and the program’s last appearance in the national championship game.
The 2008 Oklahoma offense was dynamic because it was diverse. It had a Heisman winner at quarterback. an experienced and talented offensive line and dynamic skill players. It was a unit that could throw with precision and run it with brute force.
After four games, the third-ranked Sooners (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) offense has looked as dynamic as the 2008 group that is viewed as the gold standard for the modern Oklahoma offense.
Baker Mayfield is playing at Sam Bradford’s level
Bradford threw 50 touchdowns passes that season and set an NCAA record with a passer rating of 180.8. It will be hard for Mayfield to eclipse that total. The current rate of 3.25 touchdown passes a game isn’t enough.
But where Mayfield eclipses Bradford is his precision. Mayfield’s completion percentage (75.2) is off the charts for an offense that doesn’t use screen passes. The current Oklahoma quarterback’s yards per attempt average is 13.1 yards. His yards per completion is 17.4 yards.
The average eclipses what Bradford did that season. What’s more impressive is Mayfield is doing this without a clear-cut favorite receiver. Freshman receiver CeeDee Lamb leads the Sooners with 3 touchdown receptions. There are 9 more receivers with at least 1 touchdown grab.
“I have multiple go-to guys. It’s just not one against everybody else. We have more depth,” Mayfield said. “I have a bunch of guys that I trust. Although we don’t have an established starter at running back, it’s been a joke in our locker room that it’s this person or, or, or on the roster. It’s funny to us because we have so many guys that are so talented.”
Running backs and offensive line makes it dynamic
A great quarterback and receivers can light up a scoreboard. But for an offense to indeed be dynamic it has to run the ball.
In 2008, that set the Sooners apart. They had a talented offensive line where all of the starters played together for multiple seasons. DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown both rushed for more than 1,000 yards that season. They combined for 34 touchdowns. Both averaged 5.6 yards per carry.
The offensive lines are similar. Every current starter had the same role in 2016. The difference is the running backs. No freshmen were breaking into the lineup a decade ago.
The Sooners’ leading rushers thus far — sophomore Abdul Adams and freshman Trey Sermon — are getting bulk carries for the first time.
If Oklahoma has a No. 1 running back, it keeps it a secret. Sermon is the leader in carries (10.75 per game) and rushing touchdowns (3). Adams averaged 10.3 yards per carry thus far, but his only touchdown came on the 99-yard run against Baylor.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys that can make plays like that and being an offensive lineman, creating plays like that for people is what we love to do,” right tackle Bobby Evans said.
The offensive paces do not square
The 2008 season is when then-offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson introduced the up-tempo offense to Oklahoma. It’s been a staple since. That team averaged 79 plays a game.
The current Sooners aren’t anywhere near that pace. Through four games, they’re averaging 66.75 snaps a game. But they’re averaging 50 yards more a game and its 9.1 yards per play are 2.2 yards more than the standard bearer.
It will be interesting to see what the Sooners do in Big 12 Conference play. The 2008 Sooners hit their stride in late October, scoring at least 58 points in the final five regular-season games and claiming the Big 12 championship with a 62-21 victory over Missouri.
The current Sooners may not crank up the pace in the coming weeks. Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley plays with the speed more than his predecessor, Bob Stoops. Oklahoma snapped the ball just 59 times in the 49-41 victory over Baylor on Sept. 23.
Pick your poison
When Oklahoma is clicking, tendencies are not visible. Mayfield threw 3 touchdown passes against Baylor. Oklahoma didn’t throw the ball in the fourth quarter despite trailing at the start of it.
“It’s nice to have everything working, but you don’t want to get too specific. They know when this guy goes into the game, they’re going to do this or that. So that’s where you try to find a balance there, that sort of thing,” Riley said.
The Sooners like to say they run what the defense gives them. The 2008 offense was similar. The simplicity and efficiency put up record numbers.
In 2017, the Sooners share many of those traits.
“I said that before the season, that it’s going to be more spread out, it’s going to be more balanced, which is exactly true,” Mayfield said. “We’ve shown that so far, that we don’t necessarily have to count on anybody. Which is good to have. We’ll keep that going.”