NORMAN — The 2008 Oklahoma offense set the standard for excellence once the goal line was in sight. It was inside the 20-yard line an astronomical 84 times and scored a touchdown an equally astounding 71 times.
If you're awaiting the reincarnation of that offense's efficiency in 2011 — and some seem to be — you might be waiting in perpetuity.
“That group set a national record for scoring, right?” OU coach Bob Stoops said Tuesday. “You're not going to do that every year. Sorry for everybody out there, fans thinking we are. It's not going to happen.”
But perhaps something better than the recent norm is a reasonable goal.
Since that season, which ended with a loss to Florida in the national title game, the Sooners have scored 96 touchdowns in 168 red zone trips — a mediocre 57.1 percent touchdown conversion rate inside the 20-yard line.
What happened after 2008?
“Well,” receiver Ryan Broyles said, “that team had a bunch of first-rounders.”
No dig at the current group, which likely includes a handful of NFL draft picks itself, but the 2008 team was on another level in terms of talent. Walking down a hallway in the Switzer Center the other day, Stoops said he started counting the players from that offense on NFL rosters.
He got to 11.
“That's pretty exceptional,” he said, referring to the unit that included quarterback Sam Bradford, running back DeMarco Murray, tight end Jermaine Gresham and linemen Phil Loadholt and Trent Williams.
Realistically, something between the '08 crew and the current team's rate would be good, for starters. The Sooners, 6-0 and ranked third in the BCS, are last among the BCS' top 10 in touchdown conversions in the red zone.
With a power run game and athletic quarterback Russell Wilson, Wisconsin, sixth in the BCS, is lapping the field. It has scored touchdowns on 29 of its 33 red zone trips (87.8 percent).
The top team in the standings, LSU, has scored touchdowns on 80 percent of its red zone possessions. The only other team ahead of the Sooners in the rankings, Alabama, has touchdowns on 61.8 percent of its red zone trips — but the Tide's success has recently been predicated on defensive prowess.
It's no secret that Oklahoma, even with its defense playing well this season, has been known mostly for its offense under Stoops. So the fact that it has converted 19 touchdowns in 34 red zone trips (55.9 percent) is a surprise to some.
“To think we're going to score a touchdown every time, as often as we're in the red zone … ,” Stoops said, pausing. “Everyone thinks we've got to have 60, 55 or 60, points every week. That's not going to happen.”
What's endemic of the struggles? At least as far as this year's issues, OU play-caller Josh Heupel said it's difficult to say. On one play or possession, it's poor blocking. On another, it might be a predictable play call. On another, Landry Jones might miss an open target — or that target might fall down or drop a pass.
If it were easily pinpointed, perhaps whatever has been going on would have been corrected by game No. 7. Instead, chatter has picked up following the sixth game — against, at least as far as defensive statistics go, the worst team on the schedule.
Kansas entered last week's game dead last in the country in total defense, and yet OU scored three touchdowns and kicked four field goals in trips to the red zone. Inside the 10-yard line on four different occasions, the Sooners had to settle for two short field goals.
If punching it in against the Jayhawks in the red zone is a struggle, who will it be easier against?
“Do I think we should be better than we were last week?” Heupel said. “Yeah, absolutely. There's points out there that need to be on the board. We certainly understand that. It's just not one guy or one thing that makes you push a panic button.”
Maybe the most startling statistic through six games is the fact that OU has scored touchdowns on only 14 of its 22 goal-to-go situations. Ten of the Sooners' 14 field goals made this season have been shorter than 30 yards, meaning those drives stalled inside the 13-yard line.
“We just can't kick field goals, ya know?” said Jones, who has a 54 percent completion percentage (25 of 46) in the red zone. “To get where we want to go, we have to be better.”
Perhaps certain players have been underused in both the running and passing games. Roy Finch, small as he is, is dynamic. He received his first red zone touch of the season last week at KU — and it went for an 8-yard touchdown.
Fullback-tight end Trey Millard is perhaps the most powerful ball-carrier on the offense, and yet he has not touched the ball inside the 20-yard line all year. He has been targeted twice on pass plays, but neither connected.
And then there are the tight ends, a key in Stanford's red zone success (80.6 percent touchdown rate). Senior James Hanna, despite Stoops' compliments all season, has been targeted only twice in the red zone — and one went for a score.
What about physicality? Have the Sooners been strong enough running the ball, a staple of that 2008 team? The coaches and players said Tuesday that in meetings they're examining blocking assignments and how they're identified at the line of scrimmage.
Too many times this season, someone has incorrectly heard a call from the line — and missed a block, as a result.
“We have to continue to play tougher down there, to block a little bit better and run a little bit harder,” said Jay Norvell, the other co-offensive coordinator, along with Heupel. “We have to make the critical plays to get us in the end zone. It's just not going to be good enough to fall short and kick field goals in critical games down the stretch.”
Staff writer Berry Tramel contributed to this report.