As the No. 6 Oklahoma Sooners prepare to take on the No. 7 Florida Gators in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, the team caught up with the media on Tuesday to field questions during this week’s press availability.
Lincoln Riley on the team’s schedule this week
This year’s Cotton Bowl is set for Wednesday, Dec. 30, which gives Oklahoma and Florida a little more than a week to practice, study film and prepare for this highly anticipated New Year’s Six matchup. Lincoln Riley explained what the Sooners’ week will look like as kick-off quickly approaches.
“Yeah, our guys are here right now. We’ll work out for a couple of days, and then we’ll get the guys home for Christmas. Made the decision to do that. I just tried to weigh everything at this point. But we just couldn’t get past the fact our guys hadn’t been home, most of them, since June or July, and quite a few even well before that. And so it was just very important to us for our guys to have an opportunity to be with their families over Christmas. So they’ll get a couple of days there, Christmas and Christmas Eve, and then we’ll get the guys back here and get a couple good days of prep in and head to Arlington.”
Riley on why the team has lost big leads late in games
In the beginning of the season, Oklahoma lost its first two Big 12 contests after squandering leads in the second half. That same thing very nearly happened once again in the conference championship game. Riley addressed the possible reasons for this and what his staff and team are doing to remedy such instances.
“It’s not normally one thing. I mean, we’ve also had a lot of games where we got big leads and then separated as well this year, too. So the kind of common — I guess the most common denominator — is we haven’t played good enough to separate at times when we’ve gotten those leads. We called the same defenses that got us the leads. We’ve called the same offenses that got us the leads. We certainly don’t change our style. But you’ve got to — getting a lead is a great thing. It’s not easy to get the lead in the first place, and then having a chance to accelerate and push through it is — takes just as much as well. So we found a way to win. But, as you know us, we’re always looking for ways to get better.”
Riley on Tre Brown opting out of the bowl game
Senior CB Tre Brown has announced his decision to opt out of this year’s Cotton Bowl in order to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft. Riley shared his thoughts about the veteran DB’s decision.
“I think Tre is going to have a good opportunity. I think he’s made himself a better player, become much better with his technique. I think that was a big part of him, was just consistency and technique. So I do think that’s improved. Like all our guys, when they get a chance to take that next step, we’re always excited for them. And Tre’s no different. As far as how I handle it? Next man up. In any year, you’ve got to do that, especially we’ve — if we haven’t learned that by this point this year, then we’re in trouble. So we’ve played a lot of guys defensively and we don’t expect to miss a beat.”
Riley on coaching against Dan Mullen and Florida
To his knowledge, Riley does not remember ever coaching against Florida’s Dan Mullen in the past, but his chance to scratch that off the list is now here. Check out what the fourth-year OU head coach had to say about the Gators and their frontman.
“I’ve had a chance to watch (Mullen) from afar for years and years and always admired what he’s done offensively and what he’s done as a head coach. The guy does a tremendous job. So all the respect in the world for him. Their group presents a lot of challenges. There’s a lot of great match-ups. They do a good job of creating. Obviously, the quarterback’s played at a very high level this year. They’ve got some outstanding skill that they really do a good job of using and utilizing. And they’ve obviously thrown the ball as well as anybody in the country this year.”
Alex Grinch on defending the Gators’ offense
As well as Oklahoma’s defense has performed this season, its next test will be the most challenging of the season. Kyle Trask and the offense he commands present problems at every level, and it will be up to defensive coordinator Alex Grinch to devise a successful game plan to limit the Gators’ offensive attack.
“It’s a tremendous challenge. There’s no question about it. To be one of the — like the best offense we’ve faced this year. Obviously, you talk about a quarterback playing as well as anybody in the country, skill across the board. And we ran into that in a bowl game last year, that very elite offense in a lot of ways. And I don’t know all the numbers or records in that, but borderline historic type of numbers. And so that’s a challenge certainly for us defensively. And as a competitor, you’ve got about 24 hours to enjoy a Big 12 championship and a pretty good performance on the defensive side of the ball, only to find out that the next challenge is waiting for you. So we’ll attack it that way. I think certainly what you don’t want to do is circle one game, one opponent, and say that dictates an entire season’s worth of work that way. But, in the same token, the next challenge is a tremendous one, get a chance to play in a great bowl against a great opponent and have a great challenge. What a way to end 2020.”
Grinch on Ronnie Perkins’ upcoming decision to stay or go
There’s no doubt that junior DE Ronnie Perkins has first round talent, but with playing only half a season this fall, he has a real business decision to make in the coming weeks. Grinch was asked if he had any insight on his star player’s feelings toward returning to OU or making the transition to the NFL.
“He’s certainly improved. I think he’s improved in every area. I think he’ll continue to as you go through it. Obviously, what a great stage for him here in the next week. And he has a tendency to rise up to that occasion. But all those guys, when you play at that level, have to make career decisions at some point and all that. So that’s stuff that is always ongoing.”
Creed Humphrey on Oklahoma’s potential next year
Redshirt junior center Creed Humphrey also has a decision to make, and whether he returns to Oklahoma or not will have an impact on the Sooners’ chances at making a run at a national championship in 2021.
“I think this team has a really talented roster next year. I think there’s a chance this team goes all the way next year. That’s something I definitely think of, for sure. I think this team’s talented enough to win a national championship next year.”
Jeremiah Hall on the team’s status in regards to COVID
With the players being allowed to go home for the holiday this week, the team runs a risk of seeing an increase in positive COVID cases. Fortunately, OU is about as healthy as its been all season, according to redshirt junior H-back Jeremiah Hall.
“I don’t know if you guys know, but the Big 12 Championship was the game where we had the most people available to play in terms of being COVID-free, and so we got to maintain that standard when we go home to make sure we’re able to compete when we come back.”
Rhamondre Stevenson on what he plans to do in 2021
Compared to most backs set on entering the NFL Draft this upcoming cycles, senior RB Rhamondre Stevenson has limited tape at the D-I level. After arriving as a JUCO transfer in 2019, he then missed five games this season due to a suspension. He was asked if he’s put any thought into the decision he will make in regards to returning to school or leaving for the pros.
“Right now I’m just focused on this season. When this season ends, I’ll put all that (returning to Oklahoma or entering the 2021 NFL Draft) into consideration.”
Spencer Rattler on his growth as a player this season
Perhaps the best thing for redshirt freshman QB Spencer Rattler’s progression this season was when Lincoln Riley pulled him for a quarter against Texas. Since that point, he’s looked like a much more poised player while maintaining all the elite abilities that make him one of the most talented signal callers in the nation.
“Being a confident player coming into it, you’re a confident guy, you think there’s not going to be that many growing pains. You know, not having to go through all that throughout high school and youth ball and all that stuff. But at this level, at this stage, you’ve got to be prepared. You have to have a great preparation, great mindset. I think going through all these games, all these situations, all this adversity has helped me grow tremendously.”
Isaiah Thomas on playing Florida’s high-powered offense
Redshirt junior DE Isaiah Thomas has developed into one of Oklahoma’s better defenders this season, and now he’ll be tasked with limiting Florida’s explosive offense. The winner of this game could ultimately be decided by which team wins the line of scrimmage, and IT will certainly have his say in that matter.
“We’re glad to take on any challenge with any team we face, but with a high-powered offense like Florida, it really gives us that challenge to give us a feel of what our defense is made of this year, what players are willing to step up in a big time game like this. Yeah, I’m excited for the challenge. Florida has a great offense, great quarterback as we all know, great weapons along with him.”
Nik Bonitto on growing up as a Gators fan
All-Big 12 honorable mention Nik Bonitto played his high school ball at the renowned St. Thomas Aquinas High School and is originally from from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Because of this, this upcoming matchup with the Gators is a bit more personal for the redshirt sophomore pass rusher.
“Yeah, I always grew up a Gator fan, I always wanted to go there since I was a kid, it being my dad’s dream school. But that was really in the past. I’m an OU football player now. I’m excited to be here, and I’m excited to go up against these guys.”
Ronnie Perkins on the defense’s national perception
Junior DE Ronnie Perkins leads Oklahoma as both a vocal leader and a playmaker, and although it has taken some time, the national perception of the Sooners’ defense is finally beginning to shift. Perkins shared his thoughts on how those outside the program are starting to view his evolving group.
“I definitely feel that switch. You know, we’ve been playing great football throughout these last few months. After suffering those two early losses in the season, the defense definitely turned it up. I definitely feel that switch. We’ve got great players all over the field, a lot of guys who’ve kind of took a lot of reps in this defense over the last two years. We’re a confident group, we play hard, we play fast, and I think people are really starting to take notice with how we play.”
Tre Norwood on possibly playing corner next week
Since Tre Brown has decided to opt out of the bowl game, a starting cornerback spot has come available. Redshirt junior DB Tre Norwood began his Sooner career as a CB, so there’s a chance that he could be called upon by his coaches to fill the void left by his defensive backfield mate. Having said that, Woodier Washington and DJ Graham have come on strong as of late, so a move a way from nickel might not be necessary.
“It hasn’t been discussed yet. If (the coaches) ask me to, I’m always open to it. I’m always going to be a do-what’s-best-for-the-team kind of guy for this defense. It hasn’t came up yet. They haven’t asked me. Haven’t heard anything about it, but I mean if it comes up I’m always willing to do that.”
Florida LB James Houston on playing the Sooners
Florida LB James Houston on #Sooners: “Oklahoma is a good matchup but they’re not on our level, they're not SEC, they’re not the Florida Gators."— Ryan Aber (@ryaber) December 22, 2020
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