OU searches for answers for struggling passing game

Oklahoma's passing game hasn't done much through two games, but the Sooners aren't worried.

Originally Published: September 14, 2005
By Tim Griffin | Special to ESPN.com

Oklahoma fans might have to wonder whether they've wandered into a weird time warp the last two weeks.

Surely, Barry Switzer must still be coaching the Sooners. And isn't that Steve Davis quarterbacking the team?

It's kind of funny people are questioning my ability after one game because we didn't throw the ball in one half. … Everybody has an opinion. And to tell you the truth, I don't care."
Rhett Bomar, Sooners QB

But becoming a run-heavy team overnight doesn't explain why OU's moribund passing game has gone south this season. OU coach Bob Stoops only wishes it were that easy. The Sooners' passing game is in shambles. Redshirt freshman Rhett Bomar has struggled all season. And even Switzer's most potent blend of "Sooner Magic" couldn't resuscitate a gasping aerial attack that had been OU's constant offensive strength with Jason White in control.

OU ranks 113th nationally in passing and passing efficiency after attempting no passes in the second half of the Sooners' 31-15 victory over Tulsa last week. The Sooners had 42 yards passing in that game -- the lowest since throwing for 38 yards against Syracuse in 1997 in the forgettable John Blake years. The Sooners had never passed for fewer than 100 yards in Stoops' previous 80-game coaching tenure.

Considering that Bomar was supposed to be the second coming of John Elway, (at least according to the flowery reports of the recruiting gurus) OU's passing struggles have been one of the biggest mysteries of the young season.

"When we've been as unproductive in two games as we've been, we've got to really be critical of what we are asking them to do," Stoops said. "Just because it's worked in the past and worked well doesn't mean it's going to now.

"When we've got guys open by 40 yards, you've got to complete that."

Bomar, who made the first start of his college career against Tulsa, insists he isn't worried about OU's sputtering passing attack.

"We didn't run all of our plays, and now everybody thinks we can't throw the ball and that we are in trouble," said Bomar, who completed 5 of 13 passes and was intercepted twice in his first career start. "That's not true. We had a game plan and wanted to be physical."

Things got so bad in the second half that stubborn OU coaches decided to line up and disdain the passing game. Having Adrian Peterson helped as the Sooners gradually wore the Hurricanes down.

"We wanted to line up and run the football," OU offensive coordinator Chuck Long said. "We thought that was important to build some confidence in our group -- to be physical in what we did."

That strategy won them the game, but still didn't sugarcoat Bomar's struggles. He spent most of the second half handing the ball to Peterson, who ran the ball on 19 of OU's 28 second-half plays. Peterson finished with 180 yards and two touchdowns for the half and 220 yards for the game.

Bomar is the Sooners' quarterback now and for the foreseeable future. That was evident when Stoops didn't summon first-game starter Paul Thompson at any point against Tulsa despite the passing struggles.

Bomar's statistics -- four fumbles, three sacks, two interceptions and only seven completions in two games -- have been described by Stoops as "pretty average." That's Stoops-speak for not so good.

After playing only two games in his college career, Bomar spent most of his interview time this week defending his slow start.

"It's kind of funny people are questioning my ability after one game because we didn't throw the ball in one half," Bomar said. "We do have Adrian back there, and he's a once-in-a-lifetime player. We'll try to get him the ball as much as possible. Everybody has an opinion. And to tell you the truth, I don't care."

Long said the youth of his offense -- the Sooners had as many as eight freshmen on the field at one time during the Tulsa game -- might necessitate some play-calling tweaks in Saturday's game at UCLA.

The most likely scenario would be more underneath routes and more use of shotgun formations to tailor the offense to Bomar's athletic skills.

"It's not like we've been a 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust team here in the past," Long said. "I'm still an old quarterback who likes to throw it."

Only three passes were called in the second half against Tulsa. Two resulted in quarterback sacks. The other was a timely third-down scramble by Bomar for a first down on the drive that produced the clinching touchdown.

"We didn't require him to win for us," Stoops said. "But we're gonna continue to give him more as we go. And he definitely will have to do more this week to win at UCLA."

Bomar, who threw for 6,097 yards in high school, relishes that challenge despite his youth.

"It's there," he said. "We just have got to execute better. We're capable of doing that, and I think we'll do much better on Saturday."

The Sooners' confidence heading into the conference race might be depending on it.

Tim Griffin covers the Big 12 for the San Antonio Express-News.