Advertisement

Grading the Sooners' offense in 2023

Dec. 30—It was a ride with many ups and downs, but Oklahoma closed out its season with a four-win improvement from head coach Brent Venables' first season.

It was the program's biggest jump in record between two season's since the 2009 (8-5) and 2010 (12-2) seasons. The Sooners also saw a six-win improvement from Bob Stoops' first and second seasons with the program, which was the biggest jump in program history.

The Sooners ended up matching their preseason Big 12 preseason poll ranking, finishing third in the conference at 7-2.

Here's how we graded the Sooners' offense at each position group this season:

Quarterback: A-

It wasn't long ago that people around the country were adding Dillon Gabriel to their Heisman watch lists.

Following his late-game heroics against Texas, Gabriel had accounted for 21 touchdowns and just three turnovers through the first six games of the season. Still, the Sooners ended up dropping three of their final six games and the quarterbacks certainly played a role in that.

Gabriel threw for 3,660 yards, which is 12th-most in school history in a single season despite missing half of the BYU game and the bowl game. Gabriel completed 69.3% of his passes and threw for 300 or more yards seven times, which is the seventh-most by an Oklahoma quarterback all-time.

Having backup Jackson Arnold proved to be a huge boost for the team, despite a frustrating game in San Antonio. Last season the Sooners faced Texas without Gabriel and suffered a historic loss in the Cotton Bowl.

Arnold threw a season-high 45 passes and had three intercepted. Still, he threw for 361 yards and two touchdowns with a 58% completion percentage in his first career start.

Without Arnold, it's hard to imagine the Sooners still being in the game in the fourth quarter. It was also the only game where quarterback play was a big factor in a Sooners' loss.

Running backs: B-

The Sooners expected to take a step back at the running back position following the departure of Eric Gray, but it was an especially tough year for the Sooners' backs.

Gavin Sawchuk took over the majority of the carries over the final seven games of the season, earning starts in each of those games. The redshirt freshman provided the biggest spark of any of the Sooners' backs.

He rushed for over 100 yards in each of the last five games and averaged 6.8 yards per carry over the month of November.

Marcus Major missed each of the last five games due to injury and Javontae Barnes missed four games due to injury. Tawee Walker also battled through injuries, but was one of the Sooners' most consistent backs all season, especially between the tackles.

Walker had 496 yards rushing on 95 carries and seven touchdowns.

Wide Receivers: B+

Early in the season, this was one of the strongest position groups on the entire team.

Losing Andrel Anthony ended up being a big blow to the passing game, but several players were able to step into bigger roles. Nic Anderson finished the regular season second in the conference in touchdown catches with nine.

Anderson was a threat to score any time the ball was thrown his way, averaging 23.4 yards per reception with 10 receptions of 30 yards or more.

Drake Stoops had his best season yet and finished the regular season tied for the conference lead with 10 touchdown catches. But outside of those two, there wasn't any consistent production.

Jalil Farooq was second on the team with 41 catches and third on the team with 637 yards receiving, but didn't have as big of an impact in losses to Kansas and Arizona.

Tight Ends: D

The tight end position has been a key part of the Sooners' offense for a long time, but this was a down year for the group.

Getting Austin Stogner in the transfer portal was big, because the Sooners had three catches from tight ends outside of him. Even still, Stogner never had more four catches in a single game.

He finished the year with 17 receptions for 196 yards and one touchdown. Catching the ball is only part of the job of a tight end, but Stogner isn't a strong enough blocker to make up for the lack of production.

Having a trusty tight end in the passing game might have given the Sooners' offense the consistency that it lacked this season.

Offensive Line: B

The expectation was that this would be a rebuilding year for the Sooners' offensive line after losing Wanya Morris, Anton Harrison and Chris Murray to the NFL.

Over the two previous seasons, they allowed over 30 sacks in each season and ranked dead last in the conference over that span. It wasn't an overly-dominant group this season by Oklahoma's standards, but it was still a step in the right direction.

Granted, the Sooners appear headed for another rebuilding year next season, but that doesn't detract from this groups' success. They ranked 37th nationally in sacks allowed per game (1.54) and 36th nationally in tackles for loss allowed per game (4.85).

The Sooners struggled to run the ball in short-yardage situations this season and often had mental mistakes that led to penalties. But by the end of the season, the offensive line had several players injured and were forced to move players around to different positions.

The offensive line paved the way for the strong rushing performances the Sooners had to end the season and ended up ranked in the top 10 nationally in first downs per game, scoring offense, total offense, passing offense and passing touchdowns.

Tarik Masri is the sports editor for The Transcript covering OU athletics and area sports. You can reach him by emailing tarik@normantranscript.com