NORMAN — Josh Heupel wants more from his offense's running game this season.
Oklahoma averaged 4.8 yards a carry last season, 4.5 yards a season before. Both were dramatic improvements over the measly 3.3 yards a carry that the Sooners averaged in 2010, the season before Heupel took over the offense.
But the Sooner offensive coordinator wants more.
“We can be better,” he said Tuesday after the annual media golf outing at Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club. “That's something we are and have been pushing for.”
I've got two words for you, Josh.
The versatile senior has been nicknamed “Slash” by Sooner coach Bob Stoops because of all the positions he plays. He's a fullback/tight end/H-back/running back.
But here's a radical idea: Why couldn't Millard be OU's feature back?
I decided to ask Heupel.
“Do I think he's got the skill set to be a great impact player with the ball in his hands?” Heupel said. “Absolutely. When you look at what he's been able to do in some of our boot packages or play-action package or when he's been able to carry the football, he's been explosive with the ball in his hands.
“So absolutely, he's a guy who's continued to grow with the number of touches that we've been able to get him. I do hopefully see that trend happening again this year.”
More touches for Millard. Where have we heard that before?
It has become a familiar refrain from the Sooners the past year or so. There's been lots of talk from coaches and players about getting Millard more touches.
And last season, his numbers did go up. He had nine more carries and 17 more catches than the previous season, his total touches going from 37 as a sophomore to 63 as a junior.
But still, that's less than five touches a game.
That's not enough.
Especially when it comes to carrying the ball.
Last season, the Sooners had some good tailback talent led by Damien Williams, who I really like to see carry the ball, but overall, they were still average running the football. Sometimes, they were down right awful. That was most evident in the red zone; the every-down offense was permanently replaced by the Belldozer.
Want to doze some defenders?
Hand the ball to Millard a bit more and see what happens.
Even though Millard is good when he catches the ball — getting in open space and being able to plow over undersized defenders is a definite plus — he is exceptional out of the backfield. Last season, he averaged 6.0 yards a carry.
Let's put that in perspective. Kansas' James Sims, who led the Big 12 in rushing yards a game last season, averaged 4.6. Oklahoma State's Joe Randle, who led the league in total rushing yards, averaged 5.2. Baylor's Lache Seastrunk, who finished the season as strong as any player in the country, averaged 7.7.
Might Millard's production go down with a heavier workload?
But even if he still loses a yard or so a carry, he'd still be one of the most productive backs in the Big 12.
“He's a violent runner,” Heupel said, offering as good and accurate a description as I've heard in a long time. “He's a guy that needs the ball, and he needs to get it multiple ways because of how we use him. He's a great football player for us. He's extremely productive.”
Heupel paused a moment.
“I don't think people understand the impact he has on the game whether he's got the ball in his hands or not,” he said. “He's one of our best blockers out in space, and his versatility is really what allows us to be multiple in what we do offensively.”
Listening to Heupel, I had an epiphany — Millard is a victim of his own versatility.
He is so good at so many things that Heupel and Co. feel like they have to use him in all of those ways. And considering the tight end deficit and the offensive line injuries that they had last season, it's easy to see why they'd want to use Millard to help shore up those areas.
But if given the opportunity to focus on playing running back, it would be grand fun to see what Millard might do.
He is 6-foot-2, 259 pounds. Houston running back Arian Foster is 6-1, 230, while Atlanta running back Steven Jackson is 6-2, 240. Think about the way they punish defenders.
I'm not suggesting Millard could become an NFL Pro Bowl running back, but then again, who knows what he might become?
Heupel and the Sooners want to run the ball better?
I'd start by giving it to Millard more.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.