DALLAS — Sterling Shepard and Jalen Saunders were supposed to be Oklahoma's playmakers at wide receiver.
But Saturday in a stunning 36-20 loss to Texas, neither were very involved.
Shepard ran an end-around for 24 yards on the Sooners' first offensive play but never caught a pass.
Saunders had three catches for just 18 yards.
Through six games, Oklahoma hasn't shown much of a vertical passing game, and the inability to get the ball to Saunders and Shepard consistently is a big reason.
“Those guys need to be involved,” co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “Those are guys that need to make plays.”
OU quarterback Blake Bell twice threw Shepard's way but on each, a diving Shepard couldn't come up with the play.
Saunders' receptions didn't lead to many yards after the catch.
Through six games last season, with Landry Jones at quarterback and Kenny Stills and Justin Brown in the featured roles at wide receiver while Saunders and Shepard played in the slot, the Sooners had 21 pass plays of 20 or more yards.
So far this season, Oklahoma has just 12 passing plays that long, and half of them came in the win over Tulsa.
The Sooners had none against TCU and two against the Longhorns. The first went to Trey Millard for 29 yards early in the third when the game was still in doubt. The second was a 47-yard pass to Lacoltan Bester with the Sooners down 16 midway through the fourth.
The Sooners ran the ball effectively — averaging nearly four yards per carry — but hit a few more shots downfield and the running lanes opened even wider.
“There were opportunities there a little bit to unload the box that we're not taking advantage of,” Heupel said.
And it wasn't just against Texas, although Saturday was the first time it had cost the Sooners in a big way.
Bell isn't getting his receivers the ball down the field or in space, and the receivers aren't helping out much.
On a second-quarter drive against the Longhorns, Bester caught a 4-yard pass and was immediately tackled, then Saunders was immediately brought down on a 15-yard reception that was nullified by penalty. To end the drive, Bell was brought down for a sack on a play the Sooners protected well but couldn't get a receiver open down the field.
Heupel said not being able to move the ball in the vertical passing game was one of his regrets after the loss.
“We haven't been good on the outside or in the middle of the field — anything past 15 yards,” Heupel said. “We gotta be better. There are explosive plays out there that have the opportunity to win. We just gotta make ‘em.”