<
>

Complementary pieces are critical for Oklahoma Sooners' offense

NORMAN, Okla. -- Dimitri Flowers’ season numbers look like a good game for Oklahoma teammate Sterling Shepard.

The sophomore fullback/tight end had eight receptions for 130 yards and four touchdowns during the regular season. Yet, Flowers was a critical piece during Oklahoma’s run to a Big 12 championship and College Football Playoff berth. His blocking, his versatility and his big plays changed games, even though they often went unnoticed.

“He’s made an impact in a big way, his improvement has been crucial for us,” center Ty Darlington said.

Flowers is just one of the complementary parts that has helped Oklahoma’s offense hum. The Sooners finished in the top 10 nationally among FBS teams in multiple offensive categories, including No. 8 in points per drive at 3.03 and No. 9 in yards per play at 6.95, thanks in large part to the supplementary pieces of the attack that provided a platform for stars like Shepard, Baker Mayfield and Samaje Perine to build upon.

While Mayfield grabbed most of the headlines, and rightly so, Oklahoma has a list of guys playing secondary roles at an elite level. As Mayfield, Perine and Shepard solidified their star status, their supporting cast mates have been stars of a different kind.

“Some of them have taken a lesser role, some have taken more of a role. There’s never been a selfish moment with this group,” offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. “We never want this to be a one-man show, when you lean too much on one or two guys, you get yourself in trouble. Then people can take them away or they get injured, then what do you do? It’s made us tougher to defend, made us more versatile.”

Few teams can match the production of complementary pieces like Joe Mixon (749 rushing yards, seven touchdowns) and receivers Dede Westbrook (42 receptions, 674 yards, four touchdowns) and Durron Neal (42 receptions, 527 yards, three touchdowns), along with the blocking prowess of guys like Flowers and emerging freshman tackle Dru Samia. Darlington pointed to Westbrook and Neal as being key -- “Having that second receiving threat has been critical” -- and praised Samia for stepping up after the Sooners’ loss to Texas.

Oklahoma had a Big 12-best nine players land on the All-Big 12 first team, but some of the players whose contributions have gone unnoticed have pushed the Sooners' offense to a different level.

“Coach Riley knows what he’s doing,” said Westbrook, the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. “It’s not about a player, it’s about a position. Whatever position you’re in, if that’s where the holes [in the defense] are [that week], be prepared and ready to go because you’re going to get the ball.”

As Oklahoma cruised to an 11-1 regular-season mark, three different Sooners running backs (Perine, Mixon, Alex Ross) led the team in rushing during a single game and four different receivers (Shepard, Westbrook, Neal, Jarvis Baxter) led the team in receiving during a single game in 2015.

Oklahoma’s names you know are among the nation’s best. Yet its names you may not know are just as good in their respective roles.

“We don’t have that one player on the team with 50 touchdowns or one running back with 2,000 yards,” Flowers said. “It’s special to have all these pieces to the puzzle. We don’t have those players that are pissed after a series, saying they didn’t get the ball thrown to them or they didn’t get enough carries. You can’t be having that in this offense. As long as we come out winning, everyone’s happy. That’s what I love about this team.”

And that’s what will make this team dangerous in the College Football Playoff.