Oklahoma entered 2014 with high expectations and hopes of winning the Big 12 title. But the Sooners finished 8-5 and a 5-4 mark in conference play, forcing coach Bob Stoops to make a few changes to his staff. Lincoln Riley is now the play-caller on offense and plans on implementing a spread attack similar to what he coordinated at East Carolina. However, the offense will still feature running back Samaje Perine. Oklahoma isn’t short on talent, but Stoops and his staff have to replace four starters on the offensive line and improve a secondary that allowed 24 passing plays of 30 yards or more in 2014.
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Previewing Oklahoma’s Offense for 2015
When Lincoln Riley arrived to overhaul Oklahoma’s offense as coordinator, the immediate question was obvious: Who fit as a triggerman for the spread attack he used to create misery against better competition at East Carolina? That’s still the question, although indicators point to Baker Mayfield, the former Texas Tech walk-on and transfer.
None of four quarterbacks — Mayfield, returning starter Trevor Knight or youngsters Cody Thomas and Justice Hansen — did enough to seize the job in the spring. Mayfield looks the part as a pocket passer who has already directed the spread at Tech. But he was prone to throwing interceptions at Tech and tossed two in the spring game. “When I was able to get the ball in our receivers’ hands, they made plays for me,” Mayfield says. “Now I just have to keep improving and finding ways to get them the ball.”
If the quarterback concerns extend into the season, the Sooners always have Plan B. Or is it Plan A? The Big 12’s best back as a freshman a year ago, Samaje Perine is a throwback, downhill runner who can dominate and dictate games. Oklahoma rode him hard last fall when the passing game stalled, resulting in solid success, as he ran for a league-leading 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns. The running game also features the speedy Alex Ross, as well as Joe Mixon, a five-star recruit forced to spend a year away from the team after an ugly off-the-field incident last summer.
Sterling Shepard provides a game-breaker at receiver, but it’s critical that others emerge to fit the four-wide scheme.
The offensive line has something to prove, too, and is working to find replacements at both tackles. Returning starters Ty Darlington at center and Nila Kasitati at guard provide a veteran core.
Previewing Oklahoma’s Defense for 2015
The defense presents a mix of star power and major question marks. And the questions begin up front, where the decision by Jordan Phillips to leave early for the NFL leaves a gaping hole at tackle. Sophomore Charles Walker alleviated some concern inside with a strong spring. And the ends are solid with Charles Tapper, Matt Dimon and D.J. Ward providing a versatile rotation. But will it be a dynamic front?
At linebacker, Eric Striker sets the tone of the defense as an attacking ball hawk and game-plan wrecker. A first-team All-Big 12 selection, Striker led the Sooners with 17 tackles for a loss and nine sacks. And Dominique Alexander and Jordan Evans return as the team’s top two tacklers, making the middle a major strength.
The secondary must improve, even with first team all-conference corner Zack Sanchez back to rule his side of the field. Sanchez led the team with six interceptions and eight pass breakups. Sophomore Steven Parker is a rising star at safety or as the nickel, but the Sooners are searching for reliable playmakers at the other corner and safety spots.
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Previewing Oklahoma’s Specialists for 2015
Replacements at placekicker and punter are needed, and both jobs could fall to incoming freshman Austin Seibert, who was ranked No. 1 at each spot by one recruiting service or another. The return game could be explosive, with Ross proving himself dangerous on kickoffs, averaging 31.2 per runback a year ago. Dede Westbrook and Shepard, slotted to return punts, are also dynamic with the ball in their hands.
Much uncertainty surrounds the Sooners entering 2015. Can Mayfield efficiently engineer the offense? And if not, who can? Can the defense fix a leaky secondary that allowed too many big passing plays? The schedule is rough, too, with road games at Tennessee, Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State. A lot of questions. And it’s unclear whether the Sooners have all the answers.