Lincoln Riley has now beaten every other team in the Big 12 after the Oklahoma Sooners escaped Ames, Iowa with a 37-27 win over the Iowa State Cyclones. It was a close affair to open the conference schedule, and one that raised concerns about the defense’s tackling. Going into the game, Mike Stoops’ unit seemed much improved, but Matt Campbell’s offense exposed some potential weak spots. Having said that, there’s still justification for confidence in the unit.
The team is now moving on to Game 4 in the final non-conference contest against the 2-1 Army Black Knights. Head coach Jeff Monken led Army to its first 10-win season since 1996 last year, and defending the Black Knights’ triple option attack figures to be the main priority for the defense this week.
Check out some of the more noteworthy nuggets from Monday’s press conference.
Riley on the defensive line
In his opening remarks, Lincoln Riley addressed the D-line, noting the unit as being one of the strengths during Oklahoma’s victory over Iowa State.
“We’re very happy with how we played on the defensive line in the game. Specifically, Kenneth Mann, Amani Bledsoe and Neville Gallimore, and I would throw Dillon Faamatau in that as well. Those four guys played just combined as strong a game as we’ve played on the defensive front in some time. You talk about just a combined effort, those guys were outstanding.”
Riley on quarterbacks vs. system debate
Now that Kyler Murray is having a tremendous amount of success as Oklahoma’s starting QB, there are takes being spewed that it’s not so much about the talent of the Sooners’ quarterbacks, but rather the system they play in.
“It’s the same argument we’ve been having for years and years and years. It takes everything. If you have really good players and don’t have a good system, it’s not going to work. And if you’ve got a great system and not very good players, it’s not going to work either. To do it at the level that we’ve been able to do it, you got to have really good players, you got to have a really good system, you got to have everybody on the same page.”
Riley on improving tackling
One of the biggest takeaways from the game on Saturday was the inconsistent tackling, particularly by the secondary. Riley was asked how the staff will go about addressing these issues in practice.
“You just make it an emphasis. Some of it’s physical, and some of it’s mental. There are some fundamental things we need to do better that we’re going to spend a lot of time on this week, and knowing obviously how important it’s going to be this week with this group we’re getting ready to face.”
Riley on Trey Sermon
Oklahoma is currently utilizing a true running back-by-committee approach now that Rodney Anderson is out for the season, but sophomore Trey Sermon is looked at as the player who will have the first chance to take over the RB1 mantle.
“He’s definitely our ‘one’ right now. I think a little bit is just seeing how he handles the whole deal, which he did a great job of it here in the first game against Iowa State. I think he himself was really close. He had some really good, tough runs for us. He had a couple long runs. One got called back by the penalty, but I think he’s really close, himself, to breaking loose and making even a few more explosive plays for us as well.”
Riley on RB Marcelias Sutton’s status
Sutton was on the wrong end of a violent hit on Saturday that sidelined him for a while before he surprisingly returned to the field, albeit briefly. Riley was asked about his status moving forward.
“I think he’s good, no concussion. He came back in. We wouldn’t have got him back in the game if there had been any signs of a concussion. We pull the plug on those pretty quick. No, he came back fine. I think it’s one that maybe scared him a little bit more than anything, but he’s a tough kid.”
Riley on potential of redshirting LB Caleb Kelly
The last question of Monday’s presser brought to light an interesting idea that junior linebacker Caleb Kelly could redshirt this season. Kelly, a former five-star recruit, played as a true freshman in 2016, but has yet to take that next step many expected of him. Now that senior Curtis Bolton is starting ahead of him at the WILL, the opportunity to redshirt Kelly and save a year of his eligibility is available.
“Any time we have that discussion with our players, it’s a conversation. It’s not ‘you go sit down and this is what you’re doing’. I don’t want to get too much into the details of this one because I don’t know how this one’s going to play out, and there are some strategic parts of it as well ... We’ve had good conversations with him. I would say that we’re on the same page. We know this season could go about a hundred different ways, both for him and this team.”
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The Sooners’ starting MIKE linebacker was asked about what the defense can learn from Saturday’s underwhelming performance in Ames.
“I’ve watched (the Iowa State game) probably three times now. You can learn a lot from it. Obviously we need to tackle better as a group. We had some adversity, but the thing I was most proud of was the way that we responded, the way that we fought after we had that adversity. We didn’t give up.”
Brown is known for his elite speed, and he and Kyler Murray have connected on several big plays already this season. Hollywood was asked if Murray could out-throw him, because Murray reportedly said that he could.
Brown’s answer? “No.” He also added, “He’s gonna have to try.”
Senior kicker/punter Austin Seibert was named the Big 12 special teams player of the week after making all three of his field goal attempts against ISU. Riley spoke about the team captain’s value in that game and to this team.
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