The first half of the 2015 season for the Oklahoma Sooners saw the Air Raid offense return to Norman. After a few seasons away from the top of the charts, OU is once again putting up attention-getting offensive stats and daring opponents to keep up with its proficiency and tempo.
Also back: disappointment. It came in OU’s biggest game of the season, as the Sooners fell to hated rival Texas. If OU intends to compete for the Big 12 title, consider its one mulligan all used up.
Here are some of the other major stories of the first half of the Sooners’ season.
Offensive MVP: QB Baker Mayfield
Mayfield has quieted his doubters through the first six games of the season. The former Texas Tech walk-on took the starting quarterback gig and ran with it, ranking fourth in the country in passer rating to this point in the season. With OU’s running game sputtering, the Sooners have essentially put the offense on Mayfield’s shoulders in the first half of the year.
Defensive MVP: LB Eric Striker
Striker has turned into a bit of a liability against the run, but that doesn’t negate all the havoc he has wrought on the field in 2015. The senior outside linebacker is setting up shop in opposing backfields, leading the Sooners in tackles for a loss with 10 through the first six games of the season. Striker has done major damage pressuring opposing QBs and making plays in space.
Best Moment of the First Half: Baker Mayfield and Sterling Shepard Silence Neyland Stadium
OU’s overtime win at Tennessee in the second week of the season might not have been a thing of beauty, but the play that tied the game with 40 seconds to go was. On 3rd-and-goal from the Volunteers’ 5-yard line, Mayfield lofted a perfect ball on a fade route to Shepard in the right corner of the end zone. When the senior receiver secured the catch, it all but assured an overtime victory over the dazed Vols.
Best Newcomer: WR Dede Westbrook
Shepard is unquestionably OU’s go-to guy on offense, but the junior college transfer Westbrook gives the Sooners a welcome second option in the passing game. Importantly, Westbrook can beat defenses in a variety of ways, whether he’s going deep or making things happen on screens and quick-hitters.
Biggest Surprise: CB Jordan Thomas
All-star cornerback Zack Sanchez gets the headlines for his leadership, gambling style and penchant for big plays. However, his counterpart Thomas has developed into OU’s best cover man.
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
1. Sparking the Running Game
In theory, when you have one of the best running back tandems in the country, you should probably churn out yards on the ground. Instead, Samaje Perine, Joe Mixon and the rest of OU’s runners are averaging a scant 3.81 yards per rushing attempt, which ranks 103rd in the country. At some point, the inability to establish a running attack will likely cost OU a game in the second half of the year.
2. Making the Offensive Line Less Offensive
A green offensive line has a lot to do with the aforementioned putridity on the ground. Seasoned starters Ty Darlington and Nila Kasitati have battled injuries all season. Meanwhile, offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh is working to get freshmen Orlando Brown, Jonathan Alvarez and Dru Samia up to speed. Lots of growing pains so far.
3. Secondary Rotation
The Sooners have settled on a solid group of defensive backs in their base personnel grouping: Thomas and Sanchez at cornerback; Steven Parker and Ahmad Thomas at safety. The nickel back position remains in flux, however. Junior college transfer Will Johnson appears to have overtaken junior safety Hatari Byrd at that spot for the time being, but who knows how that shakes out. Dependable backups at the corner positions would be a boost as well.
Ranking the Toughest Games on the Schedule
1. Nov. 14 at Baylor
The Bears are one of the best teams in the country, possess an imposing home-field advantage and have posted two straight blowout wins over their longtime bully. OU will deservedly be a clear underdog in this game.
2. Nov. 21 vs. TCU
The Horned Frogs have regressed on defense, but QB Trevone Boykin and the rest of the O are functioning at an even higher level than last year. TCU’s well-rounded offensive attack could force the Sooners into a shootout, and those haven’t been kind to OU lately.
3. Nov. 28 at Oklahoma State
Despite their perfect record so far, the Cowboys haven’t exactly dominated their competition. Notably, Mike Gundy’s high-octane offense hasn’t been its reliable self this year. The Sooners will be looking for revenge coming off of last season’s embarrassing loss to their in-state rivals.
4. Oct. 24 vs. Texas Tech
The Red Raiders boast an abundance of hot shots at the offensive skill positions. Unfortunately for Kliff Kingsbury, his defense still has a long way to go.
5. Nov. 7 vs. Iowa State
The best thing that can be said about the Cyclones at this point is that they’re not Kansas.
6. Oct. 31 at Kansas
The worst power conference team in the country.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.