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Oklahoma Football: Adversity strikes for Lincoln Riley

A preseason premonition comes true.

Oklahoma v Iowa State Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images

As the college football world was spinning into chaos in August, I wrote about why I thought the 2020 season could turn into a slog for Lincoln Riley and the Oklahoma Sooners:

Even so, red flags have been popping up around the Sooners for weeks. If there is a fall season, Riley could have his hands full making sure this team lives up to the standards of his previous squads.

At 1-2 after the loss to the Iowa State Cyclones, OU has already lost more games in the regular season than in any of the previous three. (“Boo hoo,” say the fans of about 95% of the programs around the country.) All of the tangible issues I pointed to then are surfacing now – preseason injuries hurting depth in spots, suspensions doing the same, the running backs taking a step back – along with more. Who would have guessed the offensive line would turn into a weak spot, for instance?

Frankly, though, my biggest concern at the time was the possibility for things to get weird. A dangerous virus is running rampant around the country. Every program in the country is working through the same issues resulting from COVID-19, but that type of wild card can impact teams differently depending on circumstances largely outside anyone’s control.

Beyond just health, how do you keep up the focus and morale of your players?

We don’t really know if the coronavirus chaos has affected OU more than any other team in college football. It wouldn’t make much difference if it did. Unfortunately for Riley, the expectations around Norman don’t disappear just because everything gets turned upside down. Iowa State, Kansas State – the Sooners aren’t supposed to lose those games. The coaching staff shouldn’t expect a free pass for any of the problems that have emerged through the first three games.

Despite all of that, Riley is right when he says OU isn’t far away from being a very good team. The disappointing start, however, does make you wonder how hard it will be to keep the players engaged.

Other reactions to Saturday’s action:

*I spent the afternoon watching the Texas-TCU game and listening to FOX analyst Joel Klatt sing the praises of Horned Frogs coach Gary Patterson and his defensive acumen. Then I looked up Iowa St.’s statistics from its previous game versus TCU, in which the Cyclones scored 37 points and gained 8.3 yards per play. Against OU, ISU scored 37 points and averaged 7.4 yards per play.

I don’t mean to say that is proof of anything. It’s just that perceptions are funny – OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch is getting roasted after his unit gave what was deservedly viewed as a dreadful performance versus ISU.

*ISU offensive coordinator Tom Manning picked on nickel back Brendan Radley-Hiles repeatedly in coverage by targeting Norman native Charlie Kolar. That shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone on the OU sideline.

*Horrible tackling is nothing new for the Sooners, but the repeated issues in Ames with maintaining their footing stuck out.

*Nik Bonitto garnered a lot of praise from the coaches prior to the season. He played up to billing against the Cyclones. Even though Bonitto notched just one tackle for the game, he pressured ISU quarterback Brock Purdy consistently.

The return of junior defensive end Ronnie Perkins this week will put another disruptor on the other side of the line as a bookend to Bonitto. Pairing them together can’t come soon enough.

*Speaking of transfers, I imagine offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh would welcome some news on the status of UCLA transfer Chris Murray any day now.

*The anemic running game continues to make life tough for the offense. One possibility: Defenses are crashing their safeties harder this year than in the past. Maybe something will pop up on the rewatch.

*QB Spencer Rattler’s final throw of the game clearly left something to be desired. He played really well otherwise, completing 25-of-36 attempts for 300 yards and two touchdowns. If and when the Sooners start getting more production from their running game, it should open up even more opportunities to take advantage of his talents.

*Charleston Rambo needs to be running north-south, not east-west.