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OU's red-zone struggles this year contrast with 2008 team's success

By Travis Haney, Staff Writer, Published: October 18, 2011

— 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.

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