A Weak Spot

Ronnell Lewis has been missed in return coverage.

Suffice it to say the Sooners have been terrible on the road lately, but dig a little deeper and one aspect of their road play shows up as possibly the worst of any in recent weeks.

OU's kickoff coverage team has struggled big time.

The stats don't lie.

In the last two road games, at Missouri and at Texas A&M, the Sooners have allowed seven returns for 270 yards, good for an average of 38.57 yards per return, two of which went for touchdowns.

First, Missouri's Gahn McGaffie propelled the Tigers to an early 7-0 lead in Columbia, Mo., when he took the game's opening kickoff 86 yards to the house.

Last week, A&M's Coryell Judie returned the opening kickoff of the second half 100 yards for a score.

Both of those were huge momentum bursts that really dented the Sooners' hopes of winning pivotal road games.

"We have, you know, the recipe, you know, of a kickoff return to open the second half as opposed to the opening one of the game when Missouri beat us, so those things all together, you just can't overcome them in a game like this," Stoops said after OU's 33-19 loss to the Aggies the other night.

It's no coincidence one of the major reasons why OU managed to open the season 6-0.

Despite inconsistencies offensively and defensively, the Sooners weren't giving up the big play on kickoffs.

And that's changed the past few weeks.

For more evidence of that, consider that in the first six games, teams managed 463 yards on 32 kickoff returns, an average of only 14.47 yards per return.

In the past three weeks, that average has elevated to 20.81 yards per return.

One possible reason is the absence of hard-hitter Ronnell Lewis in the last three weeks.

"He makes a big difference for sure," Stoops said. "[But] Trey Millard's been really good for us, too, but Ronnell's a big piece to it."

Still, that's not really an excuse, and Stoops wasn't necessarily making it one.

The problems are fundamental things and not personnel.

"Yeah, we get out of a couple lanes," Stoops said of the latest return for six. "A couple guys got pinned on the wrong side of the return. One of our inside guys was way too wide, and it opened up the seam in the middle."

So, with these recent problems, it begs the question, who's responsible?

"[We're coaching it] like we always have, like we always have, as a staff," Stoops said. "You want me to label them all? Yeah, so you want me to go through all of it or, I mean. Yeah, that's way back when when [Coach Chris Wilson] left, Bobby Jack [Wright] was the special teams coordinator. Cale Gundy's in charge of kickoff return with three coaches. Coach Wright's in charge of punt, punt return with three coaches.

"He's in charge of kickoff along with myself, and punt team is myself and Coach Wright along with two or three other coaches."

And will there be changes?

"So, it'll be like that from here until whenever, until we get it," Stoops said. "If someone else leaves, we'll put someone else in other spots, but we have always divided it up."

In other words, collectively several coaches are responsible for it, and there won't be any immediate changes.

But for OU to start having a better chance to win on the road, the results of these kickoff returns must change.

One piece of good news here is that Lewis returns this weekend.

Return Breakdown Game-by-Game

Opponent # of returns-yards Yards/return
Utah State 6-131 21.8
Florida State 8-110 13.8
Air Force 3-63 21.0
Cincinnati 5-85 17.0
Texas 5-84 16.8
Iowa State 5-90 18.0
Missouri 3-130 43.3
Colorado 8-145 18.1
Texas A&M 4-140 35.0
*Italics denotes road game

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