Sep. 6—Since the beginning of spring practices, the fast tempo of Jeff Lebby's offense has been a point of emphasis for Oklahoma.
That was on full display in the Sooners' 45-13 win over UTEP Saturday.
It took the Sooners just five plays and 1:17 of game time to score their first touchdown of the season, before following that up with a six-play, 93-yard drive that took less than two minutes.
The Sooners led 21-0 less than nine minutes into the game, and their three touchdowns came on just 13 plays of offense. The offense held the ball for just 21:27 of game time.
That's not only less time compared to any other OU game last season — OU's time of possession dipped below 24 minutes just once in 2021 — it was the second lowest time of possession of any team in the country Saturday. The Sooners also scored more than the other teams that finished in the top five of lowest time of possession.
Lebby was mostly pleased with the offensive tempo, though there are still some things to improve.
"I really thought we were close," Lebby said Monday. "I thought from a tempo standpoint, we played pretty fast when we got the first first down. That was probably the most disappointing thing, the two three-and-outs [in the second quarter]. We have to continue to clean up what we call our ball mechanics, making sure the ball is getting back inside and not being left on the ground or left on the sideline."
The ball mechanics Lebby mentioned is key, and refers to how detailed the Sooners are with their tempo. During practice, the Sooners emphasize hurrying the ball back to the line of scrimmage after each play instead of tossing it to the official in an effort to keep the fast tempo going.
While the fast tempo worked in their favor Saturday, the Sooners' lone scoring drive of the second quarter was a little more methodical. Following back-to-back three-and-outs in the second quarter, the OU offense closed the half with an 11-play, 85-yard drive that took nearly five minutes of game time.
The Sooners four drives before that possession totaled 5:11 of game time.
While there's always an emphasis on tempo, Lebby said it's going to be important for him and the offense going forward to know when to increase the tempo and when to slow it down.
"It absolutely was very intentional [that drive] about running the football and making sure we went down and got us a touchdown before half, and playing in a way where we were still playing fast but we weren't playing quite as fast as we were in those first couple of series. Understanding that is very critical, and that's my job," Lebby said.
"You've got to understand where we're at from a tempo standpoint and what we need to do. Maybe get the other side a break so they can catch their breath."
Lebby mentioned the need for both the offense and the defense to play "complementary football", though OU coach Brent Venables said the offense doesn't need to worry about their impact on the defense.
UTEP held the ball for nearly 39 minutes Saturday, but the Sooners' defense kept the Miners at bay outside of their touchdown drive in the second half. The Miners finished with just 28 rushing yards and had just two plays of 20 or more yards.
The offense's fast tempo could mean the defense is on the field more. But for Venables, that's not an issue.
"We don't need to be worried about what's going on on offense," Venables said. "Your job is to stop the other team. Stop making excuses. Not that they were [making excuses], but I want to make sure that that narrative doesn't get inside of our walls. It's important that you have a tough mindedness about you. You know what? A lot of bad stuff is going to happen to you. Your job is to respond."
It was evident the Sooners have worked on playing fast since the spring. Now, the focus is on improving it.
"I definitely think we were pleased with the tempo we were playing at, kind of firing on all cylinders in that aspect," OU receiver Drake Stoops said. "And then I think we did a lot of positives... Could have done a little bit better on some 3rd downs, some stuff like that, but I think we checked a lot of the boxes we were looking to check and it's definitely a good first game to build on."
Jesse Crittenden is the sports editor of The Transcript and covers OU athletics. Reach him at email@example.com or at 405-366-3580