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Oklahoma Sooners Football: The defense cost Oklahoma a title shot, but Lincoln Riley’s late calls didn’t help

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Lincoln Riley is FAR from being the primary scapegoat, but some of his late decisions were questionable at best.

NCAA Football: Rose Bowl-Oklahoma vs Georgia Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

In the first overtime game in the history of the Rose Bowl, the Georgia Bulldogs finished the Oklahoma Sooners in walk-off fashion. There will be plenty of angles to dissect from this epic showdown, but for now I want to highlight Lincoln Riley’s questionable play calling after regulation.

Lincoln Riley and his play calling should not serve as the primary scapegoat for last night’s debacle, but he has rightfully received some criticism.

From the moment the second half began, it was apparent that UGA’s defense had made some key adjustments that thwarted just about everything that was working for the Sooners in the first half. Then later in the game, the offense found some success moving the ball. It seemed as if Oklahoma had found its rhythm again, but Oklahoma then decided to run option to the right side on third down with a chance to run clock, keep Oklahoma’s defense off the field and eek out a win. The play was poorly executed, and the Oklahoma D surrendered the tying TD just minutes later. Oklahoma then came up empty with less than a minute to go and was forced to punt.

Bulldogs take a knee. Overtime.

That was only the beginning. After Georgia forced to kick a field goal in the first possession of overtime, OU found itself at 3rd and manageable once again. This time, Riley went with the quick turn-around handoff to Jordan Smallwood, which has worked a couple of times in short yardage situations. The difference between those other times and now is that this Georgia defense was playing at a level not seen from an Oklahoma opponent this season. Sure enough, Smallwood was tracked down and stuffed behind the line to gain.

One made field goal later, and Oklahoma started with the ball in the second and final overtime period. If it wasn’t for an offsides penalty, Seibert would have been called upon much earlier. Following the penalty, Kyler Murray was brought into the backfield for a pitch from Mayfield, and the result was underwhelming. Riley wanted to use Murray’s skill set as a wrinkle, but the Bulldogs sniffed this out quick, resulting in no gain. An ill-advised dump-off pass to Anderson on the next play cost the Sooners a couple yards.

For as dialed-in Lincoln Riley was in the first half with his creative play calling, he fell flat in the second half and overtime (for the most part). Now, this is not to take credit away from Georgia by any stretch. The Bulldogs made the adjustments they had to make. Nevertheless, it cannot be overlooked how much differently the game could have gone had Riley’s decision making been a little more crisp and a little less conservative down the stretch. Yes, a turnover would’ve been a backbreaker, but taking the ball out of the hands of Baker Mayfield — the best QB in OU history — wasn’t the way to go. In a way, Riley was simultaneously too conservative and too cute in several instances.

However, it’s worth noting that none of this would have even been an issue if the defense had a pulse for more than a handful of plays. Mike Stoops’ critics will be out in full force until a change is made, but there will be more to discuss from that side of the ball at another time. For now, I presume Lincoln Riley will look back on this game for the rest of his coaching career, and I’m willing to bet that the young coach will use this as a lesson and grow from it.

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