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Oklahoma Sooners Football: Notes from Lincoln Riley’s pre-Ohio State press conference

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Lincoln Riley and Oklahoma’s team captains answered questions leading up to the big game against Ohio State.

UTEP v Oklahoma Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

Lincoln Riley turns 34 tomorrow. He’s the youngest head coach in FBS by four years, and he’s five days away from his first real test as a head coach. Riley and company travel to Columbus to try to avenge the Sooners’ embarrassing 45-24 at the hands of Ohio State in Norman last year. Monday’s press conference served as a reminder that nobody has forgotten how the humiliation OU suffered a year ago.

Some are saying that Saturday’s game is bigger than just OU or Ohio State. There is talk that the Big 12 needs a big-time non-conference win to legitimize itself among the other power conferences. Baker Mayfield made it clear that he was not concerned in the slightest about the Big 12’s reputation.

Steven Parker, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Orlando Brown and Baker Mayfield all fielded questions from the media before Lincoln Riley took the podium. Here are a few highlights from Riley’s press conference.

Riley on the UTEP game

Riley was complimentary of the way his young players stepped up in the first game. True freshman Kenneth Murray got his first career start against the Miners, and several other freshmen including Tyreece Lott and Bryan Mead saw significant playing time on defense.

“I was very pleased with how our young guys responded to that first game situation. We certainly made a lot of mistakes, but I thought their mentality, their ability to handle that in the moment was particularly impressive with our young group. I’m proud of the way we settled in defensively after that first drive of the game. I thought we really flew around and played with a great mentality defensively, which is something that we’ve really been pushing to stress.”

Riley on what to expect from Ohio State

Slowing down Ohio State’s two-headed running back monster of Mike Webber and J.K. Dobbins will be crucial if OU want to have any chance of coming out of Columbus with a victory. OU ranked 50th in rush defense last season, giving up almost 163 yards per game.

The marquee matchup in Saturday’s game will be the Ohio State defensive line against the Oklahoma offensive line. Both units are touted by many as the best in the country.

“They’re definitely one of the top groups that we’ll see among the defensive front. Their depth and explosiveness is very impressive. These guys do a great job schematically. Their coaches are very good, they’re very, very sound.”

Riley on comparisons to last season’s OU team

Riley was quick to dismiss comparisons to where the Sooners were a year ago. He pointed out that this year’s team featured many different faces from a year ago, and that you can’t really tell anything from one game against UTEP.

“We’ve seen one game. We did a lot of good things in the first game. There’s a lot that we’ve got to improve on. I don’t know that there will be a point, until the end of the year, where we’ll look back and say, ‘we think we did this a little better than we did before.’ Right now our mentality is all about getting better from game one and getting ready for Ohio State.”

Riley on the importance of scheduling quality non-conference opponents like Ohio State

Bob Stoops was known for his propensity to schedule solid non-conference opponents, and it appears that trend will continue under Riley.

“To win our conference championship, you’re going to have to win big games on the road, and I think these games help prepare you for that.”

In addition to preparing the team for Big 12 play, this games also increases the Sooners’ margin for error when it comes to making the CFB Playoff committee. Both Baylor and TCU went 11-1 in 2014, but missed out on a trip to the CFB playoff because of a relatively weak non-conference schedule (and an assist from Bob Bowlsby). OU made the playoff the next year with the same 11-1 record but a non-conference win at Tennessee.

Riley on his confidence in Kyler Murray

Murray, the Texas A&M transfer, saw his first live action since 2015 when he relieved Baker Mayfield in the second half. He went 10/11 for 149 yards and a touchdown in his OU debut.

“He played pretty well against UTEP. I have a lot of confidence that if something happened to Baker that he’d be ready to go. He’s been in big game environments before. He’s started in big games against good competition.”

Full press conference links

Steven Parker

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo

Orlando Brown

Baker Mayfield

Lincoln Riley