Matriculating the Ball Down the Field

“Just keep matriculating the ball down the field, boys.” Hank Stram - HC Kansas City Chiefs, Super Bowl IV

Over the past several years, probably going back to Holgerson or Monken, I have been repeatedly disappointed by our offense’s ability to put together sustained drives. If you’re leading the country in chunk plays like we saw so many times with Rudolph to Washington, it seems less important, but in a year like this one, or in a game like the last one (TCU), it is incredibly important. It gives your defense time to rest. It keeps your opponent’s offense off the field, and it allows you more control of the clock.

Against TCU, it looked like there were a number of reasons why we couldn’t keep a drive going. There were at least two series where it seemed like we were upping the tempo to our detriment. Twice we faced critical 3rd downs where we rushed the play and came up short. I don’t know if this was Sanders or the coaches, but it stopped the drives. Then there were the drives where we run on 1st down for 3, run on 2nd down for 2, and then didn’t seem to know what to do to pick up the first down. And of course there are always drives where we attempt a long pass on 1st or 2nd down, then get into a must pass situation on 3rd.

All this was incredibly frustrating against TCU when Amen was stripping the ball from them every other series, and setting us up with great field position, or when your freshman kick returner is giving you the ball at mid field.

I have wondered sometimes if our stated philosophy of taking what the defense gives you is what gets us in trouble. If I am a defensive coach and I can “give” the long pass attempt which in our best years may have a 50% chance of success, but this year might be closer to 25%, then maybe I do that every series and gamble that I can get us in a third and long, especially when the refs aren’t calling PI closely. I just get the feeling that some of our conference foes have learned how to game us into running the plays that are best for their defense just by lining up in certain ways. This wouldn’t be much of a task for a coach like Patterson.

Explosive plays are nice, but they’ve been hard to come by with Sanders at QB, our makeshift O-Line, and our “no real threat beyond Wallace” receiving corps.

We need an offense that can “matriculate” the ball down the field.


I agree with most of that but I would suggest seeking out and listening to the Tape Doesn’t Lie podcast (specifically the latest one on TCU) that is done by Adam Lunt. He makes the point that our offense just does not seem to have that many plays in it. That this is a big issue at the end of games and at the end of year since defenses have seen them enough to know how to stop them. I do think it is time for an offensive overhaul but unless there are no covid restrictions on spring practice that might not be possible.

I will agree with the “not enough plays” take. I commented on the “take what the defense gives you” philosophy. The shallow playbook may be an element of that. This look, go option A; this look go option B; otherwise, check down. I am sure all these things contribute to the same lackluster result. However, I recall when watching the Bedlam game, the commentators made a point of discussing how Lincoln Riley took pride in keeping his play sheet small enough to fit in his pocket. So it’s more than just the number of plays. OU certainly had our defense confused and off balance. The plays and the scheme are part of the equation. Maybe we’re to similar from week to week and year to year. Whatever it is, we don’t seem to have the pieces in place to figure it out.

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I think the issue isn’t the small number of plays, the issue is it’s the same small number of plays every game. LR may have a small sheet, but many, if not most of the plays are different than previous games or different combinations. I’m not nerdy enough to get into blocking schemes and such, but it sure looks like we are running the same plays for the last couple of years at least.