After 14 long weeks, the Oklahoma Sooners’ regular season finale is finally here. This Saturday, OU will take on the West Virginia Mountaineers in Morgantown before heading back home to prepare for the Big 12 Championship Game on Dec. 19.
Speaking of the season and how it’s unfolded, Riley touched on the Big 12’s plan that built in three off weeks for every team while also reserving two dates for the title game. Other Power Five conferences — namely the Big Ten and the Pac-12 — did not afford themselves the same flexibility since those leagues waited until late October/early November before finally kicking-off.
Lincoln Riley: I'm thankful that the Big 12 really did a nice job of planning and building in these weekends to make this game up. #Sooners— Eric Bailey (@EricBaileyTW) December 8, 2020
Members from other conferences might interpret Riley’s comment as a subtle jab, and perhaps they’d be right. Either way, considering how unpredictable this season has been, the Big 12 has certainly handled 2020 as well as anyone could have possibly hoped for coming into the campaign. Riley understands this, and because of it, his Sooners now have a chance to close strong with a championship and possibly more.
On Tuesday, Lincoln Riley addressed questions from members of the media in Oklahoma’s final press conference of the regular season.
Riley on if there’s an advantage to playing this week
OU officially punched its ticket to Arlington when it defeated Baylor on Saturday night. That makes this weekend’s game against West Virginia entirely insignificant in terms of playing for a sixth consecutive Big 12 title, but as far as players gaining experience and keeping the team’s competitive fire burning, this upcoming contest is extremely important. Riley was asked if there is more of an advantage for playing this game versus having an extra week to prepare like Iowa State does ahead of the conference championship game.
“I think simply, for our football team, we need to play games. We’ve had so many bye weeks, and obviously we had one bye week that was completely unexpected. Like I said, it wasn’t a normal bye week, having the facility shut down that long in the middle of the season was a different deal. Just for us to play the quality of ball and to make the improvements we need to make, we need to play, and I’m excited that we have the opportunity to play.”
Riley on the offensive issues against Baylor
The Bears defense was able to rack up four sacks and 11 tackles-for-loss against Oklahoma, and much of that was due to some unusually poor protection on the O-line’s part. As a whole, the Sooners’ offense played quite poorly relative to Lincoln Riley’s elite standard, and the fourth-year head coach has taken ownership of his share of the blame.
“I don’t think anyone on offense played particularly well, and when that’s the case you’re going to spring leaks. There’s times it was the O-line, there’s times it was the quarterback, there’s times it was running backs, there’s times it was the receivers. There was a lot of times that those guys weren’t coached very well. It’s just kind of a cause of leaks springing over and we just didn’t do a very good job of handling it.”
Riley on how Ronnie Perkins’ presence affects the team
In the four games since he made his 2020 debut against Texas Tech, junior DE Ronnie Perkins has played like a man possessed. He already has four sacks, good for third-best on the team, and countless QB hurries/backfield disruptions in general. Riley talked about how having Perkins back on the field has helped the defense as a whole.
“I think the main thing really is just getting back the leader and his presence. (Perkins) is a guy that — he’s one of the true alphas on this team and one of the true alphas defensively. He has a presence and a way about him that our guys follow. As much as we were missing having a good quality player, we were honestly missing that probably more.”
Riley on a possible timeline to replace Shane Beamer
Tight ends/H-backs coach Shane Beamer was named head coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks over the weekend, but it’s since been confirmed that he will remain with OU’s staff through the Big 12 Championship Game. On Tuesday, Riley was asked if he has an idea of when a replacement hire will be made.
“We’ll see. It’s a broad question. We’ll see what happens with the rest of the staff, and hopefully we’re able to retain everybody else. You just never know. We’ll see how that plays out. We’re not going to be in a hurry right now.”
Full press conference links
For the past three seasons, redshirt junior H-back Jeremiah Hall has been coached by Shane Beamer, who was recently hired as the next head coach at South Carolina. Hall was asked about his feelings on the opportunity for his position coach, which are apparently highly bittersweet.
Damn. Jeremiah Hall almost seemed to get a little emotional a moment ago talking about Shane Beamer. He said he's not just his coach, but "my friend."— Jason Kersey (@jasonkersey) December 8, 2020
In all my years doing this, I really can't remember another player describing his current coach as a "friend." Pretty cool.
During his presser period, redshirt senior LT Erik Swenson was asked about how eager he is to get back on the field after the offense’s sub-par performance against Baylor.
“I wish we could be playing right now. Like I said earlier, it’s a little frustrating. You just want to prove to everyone out there that we are the unit that we think we are. We want to show the whole world that, too. Hell, I’d play (West Virginia) right now if I could.”
OU’s wide receiver room is as talented and deep as it’s been in quite some time, and sophomore Theo Wease Jr. is a major component of said depth. On Tuesday, the former five-star recruit was asked about how he feels being surrounded by so many talent pass-catchers.
“Definitely as a competitor, I love it. All this good talent around me is just making the team better, and it’s just making me better as a competitor. Everybody’s just got to take the next step to just being great.”
Redshirt junior Robert Barnes — a converted linebacker — moved back to safety against Baylor because the Sooners were down a number of regular rotation players, and with his performance he earned himself a game ball. True freshman D.J. Graham also played significant snaps and snagged a critical interception in the second half. Lincoln Riley spoke about how the growing depth throughout the secondary is proving itself to be a major asset this season compared to recent years past.
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