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Oklahoma Sooners Football: A lack of discipline (and more observations from the Peach Bowl)

Jalen Hurts’ struggles in the passing game caught up with OU versus LSU.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff Semifinal-Oklahoma vs Louisiana State Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

As bloody as the game was, fans shouldn’t have a hard time accepting that the Oklahoma Sooners got stomped in the Peach Bowl by the LSU Tigers.

LSU’s sheer dominance in the contest might have been surprising – if not rightfully disappointing – but a decisive loss was not. LSU has a transcendent team. OU had a team that was in the College Football Playoff because there had to be four qualifiers.

Going forward, closing the obvious personnel gap between OU teams like LSU requires stockpiling talented recruits. Coach Lincoln Riley seems to be chipping away at that deficit on the recruiting trail. Based on what we saw on the field this season, though, he’s also dealing with a discipline problem.

We’re not talking about punishing rule-breakers. The reality is that OU’s players demonstrated a concerning lack of self-discipline all season.

In the aftermath of getting obliterated by the Tigers, the most salient example of the lack of discipline among the Sooners would be nickel back Brendan Radley-Hiles’ boneheaded targeting penalty for a cheap shot on LSU running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Aside from the bizarre timing of Bookie’s head-hunting, the blatant personal foul led to his ejection, which forced safeties coach Alex Grinch to insert little-used freshman Woodi Washington into the lineup. Not surprisingly, the Tigers victimized Washington soon after he entered the game.

Refs tagged Bookie for a similar penalty earlier this season during OU’s game against the Iowa State Cyclones. Unfortunately, those kinds of dumb infractions came far too often this season for OU. The Sooners averaged 74.1 penalty yards per game in 2019, which ranked 128th nationally.

What happens inside the lines is one thing, but defensive end Ronnie Perkins, running back Rhamondre Stevenson and receiver Trejan Bridges allegedly testing positive for marijuana feels even worse. It’s not smoking weed that is an issue – that’s happening across college campuses everywhere. However, you’ll notice that none of the other teams in the Playoff have players missing time for failing NCAA-mandated drug tests. That’s because they curtail their use in advance of the tests, which everyone knows are coming this time of year.

In other words, the NCAA testing amounts to a test of willpower and intelligence, for lack of a better word. Riley can’t take drug tests for his players, but he can play a significant part in communicating with them about the consequences of their behavior leading up to the tests.

OU’s lack of discipline ultimately didn’t matter in a blowout loss to LSU, but it will cost the Sooners down the line if Riley doesn’t get serious about cleaning it up.

Other thoughts on an excruciating day in Atlanta for OU football:

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff Semifinal-Oklahoma vs Louisiana State Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

*LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda essentially wagered that Jalen Hurts couldn’t beat the Tigers with his arm. Jackpot.

Hurts’ subpar stat line (15-of-31 attempts, 217 yards, zero touchdowns, two interceptions) doesn’t even sum up his struggles through the air. He sprayed the ball all over the field and seemingly alternated between holding the ball too long and bailing on the pocket too early.

Hurts didn’t need to be Dan Marino for OU to compete with LSU. He did need to punish the Tigers for cheating to stop OU’s ground game. He could not. That was the game.

*On a similar note, Riley might have been able to keep the final margin of the game closer by running the ball more frequently, rather than. That strategy also had little chance of resulting in an OU win.

*Despite the improvement of the OU defensive front, the Sooners still fell woefully short in the trenches against LSU’s decorated offensive line. Perkins’ absence stung, but him playing would have only helped on the margins.

*What happened to Charleston Rambo?

*Riley’s decision to play true freshman QB Spencer Rattler in garbage time over redshirt frosh Tanner Mordecai certainly caused a stir.

Even though the coach is saying the right things today, the move definitely felt like a statement about the immediate future of the position at OU.

*Cornerback Parnell Motley probably enhanced his draft stock with this performance against the Tigers. On a day when hardly anything went right for the Sooners on defense, Motley stood out. It continued a strong close to his senior season.

*Candidly, I didn’t think much of Joe Burrow when he left Ohio State for transfer portal stardom. Ummm... consider me a convert. What a showing by Burrow and the LSU receiving corps, who went hard at OU’s backup defensive backs.

*Jadon Haselwood and Theo Wease didn’t have a huge impact, but they were in the middle of enough plays during the course of the game to offer a hopeful glimpse of the future at receiver.

*The unfortunate outcome of Saturday’s game doesn’t change the fact that OU had one hell of a bridge year. On the whole, the program has made significant strides in the last three seasons under Riley. If Rattler lives up to billing as a quarterback, wins in the Playoff should come soon enough.