It’s the most anticipated week of the season for the Oklahoma Sooners, but the usual excitement has been stifled almost entirely after OU’s surprising 0-2 start to Big 12 play. Still, Lincoln Riley’s team must find a way to rally this Saturday against Tom Herman and the Texas Longhorns, or else the cloud hanging over the program will only darken further with doom and gloom.
On Tuesday, Riley addressed questions from the media concerning the problems leading to Oklahoma’s back-to-back losses, as well as his thoughts on the crucial rivalry game ahead.
Riley on how Spencer Rattler has handled losing
Statistically, Spencer Rattler had a relatively strong outing at Iowa State, completing 25 of 36 passes for 300 yards, scoring three total touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) with one interception. Still, it wasn’t enough to lead the Sooners to victory, and that’s not a reality anybody around this program is familiar with. During his presser, Riley talked about how the talented redshirt freshman is dealing with the losses Oklahoma has suffered over the last two weeks.
“I think (Rattler’s) handled it well. [...] He’s done many things very, very well, and honestly a little bit ahead in some of the areas that may be a little bit further ahead than I would have guessed at this point. There’s things that he can improve on like every player on this football team, and we’re trying to stay focused on what those things are, but as far as his emotional state, his psyche, confidence, all that, he’s rock solid.”
Riley on Sam Ehlinger’s strengths and abilities
Senior Texas QB Sam Ehlinger is entering his fourth Red River Showdown as the Longhorns’ starter behind center. In each successive season during his collegiate career, he’s shown marked improvement as both a passer and a leader. Riley spoke about what has impressed him most regarding the UT signal caller’s game.
“(Ehlinger’s) an impressive kid. I’ve always been impressed with his toughness and his competitiveness even from watching him play some as a young guy. I think he’s improved as a thrower over the years. One of the most impressive things to me about Sam has been his durability. As physical as he’s played the position, the way he’s run with the ball, as many shots as he’s taken and delivered over the years, to be able to stay on the field for the majority of those and stay healthy has been a big part of him being able to continue to improve. We’ve had a lot of fun battles against him, and I have a ton of respect for the player he is and competitor he is.”
Riley on OU’s offensive line struggles
Two of the more scrutinized stats that often tell the tale on how an O-line is performing is yards-per-rush and sacks given up. Through three games, the Sooners’ unit up front has surrendered eight sacks with Rattler as the QB, and is paving the way for the running game at a lowly clip of 3.6 yards per carry. With so much experience having returned to Bill Bedenbaugh’s room in 2020, along with the wealth of talent throughout the two-deep, it’s been puzzling trying to pinpoint why Oklahoma has had such a difficult time consistently producing in the trenches. Riley shared his thoughts on the matter.
“As far as the (O-line) there, I mean again, they’re kind of like our whole team. They’ve had some really good stretches, and they’ve done some good things, they really have. Everybody thinks well, if you’re not running the football well or if you give up a sack then all of a sudden it’s on the offensive line. Well, no it’s not. Some of the times when we haven’t run it well this year, backs have missed cuts, I’ve made some poor calls, poor decisions on my part, receivers have missed blocks. Again for us it’s been a lot of nine and ten-man football. Same thing in the pass pro game and all of that. I don’t think they’re any more or less to blame than anybody for any of the things that haven’t gone our way.”
Riley on the Sooners’ depth going into this Saturday
Speaking of OU’s two-deep, Riley was posed with a question regarding the outlook of his team’s overall depth heading into the Texas game. From the first weekend of the season, the Sooners have been rolling with a depleted roster due to contact tracing protocols holding players out for significant stretches of time. The issue itself could be a factor for why Oklahoma has failed to hold onto second half leads over the last two weeks. Riley discussed this ongoing dilemma on Tuesday.
“We’re not close to a full two-deep and haven’t even been close at any point this year. I think we’re doing a pretty good job handling the COVID situation right now. Lot of guys getting some opportunities maybe earlier than we expected or maybe that they expected, so we’re growing with that. That’s this year. You got to play with the guys you got. You got to get the guys that you have ready. I think you have to control what you can control, and not wonder about what-ifs or this or that. Very simply — these are the guys you have, these are the guys you get ready, and you go out and you fight like hell and go play to win.”
Full press conference links
It would be challenging to single out the most glaring issue along or within Oklahoma’s offensive line play, but redshirt junior center and team captain Creed Humphrey says he believes the unit’s biggest problem through three games is their inconsistent performance.
OU Center Creed Humphrey says O-Line biggest issue is inconsistency— MYRON PATTON (@myron_patton) October 6, 2020
Like Humphrey, redshirt junior WR Charleston Rambo said this season he has taken it upon himself to be more of a vocal leader for his less experienced teammates both on the sidelines and inside the locker room.
Charleston Rambo says himself and Creed Humphrey are the vocal leaders on the offense— Josh Callaway (@JoshCallaway714) October 6, 2020
Humphrey frequently coaching up and talking to the O-Line, Rambo the same with the skill position players #Sooners
Like a broken record, OU failed to win the turnover battle last Saturday. Since he was hired, DC Alex Grinch has emphasized forcing takeaways, but so far it hasn’t translated into actual production on the field in that regard. On Tuesday, Riley admitted that the heavy focus on takeaways has likely played a part in the Sooners giving up big plays and experiencing tackling issues on defense.
Lincoln Riley says it's possible #Sooners defense focusing too much on turnovers and making big plays can hinder the team's ability to make simple, fundamental plays: "No doubt there's some correlation there."— Caleb McCourry (@CalebMac21) October 6, 2020
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