When freshman phenom Caleb Williams led the Oklahoma Sooners to a thrilling comeback win over the Texas Longhorns in the Red River Rivalry, it appeared at first blush that OU had fixed the offensive issues that plagued the team in the first half of the year. The fans calling for quarterback Spencer Rattler’s benching were vindicated: OU head coach Lincoln Riley had been holding his team back by not making the change behind center sooner.
We learned in the Sooners’ 27-14 loss to Baylor over the weekend that Riley had the right idea about taking things slow with Williams. (Shocking that someone who actually saw all of OU’s practices might have a better idea of what was best for the team than fans and commentators.)
Baylor head coach Dave Aranda and defensive coordinator Ron Roberts crafted a defensive game plan that flustered Williams from the jump. The Bears made little secret of the fact that they wouldn’t let the freshman QB run wild, penning him inside the pocket on drop backs and disguising blitzes. In fact, the second play of the game – an apparent QB draw that Baylor blew up for a six-years loss – signaled Williams would be in for a rough day.
Meanwhile, Williams struggled to execute the intermediate passing game, missing badly on a handful of throws to open targets. He looked shaky when the Bears took him off his first read. And, of course, his two interceptions resulted from horrendous decisions, including a lackadaisical effort to throw the ball away.
None of this means Riley needs to go back to Rattler behind center. The coach didn’t make a mistake when he inserted Williams into the Texas game. However, the move did trade one set of risks and limitations for others. Williams fortifies the OU ground game and can use his mobility to make plays Rattler can’t. On the other hand, the Sooners have to live with some youthful mistakes and trim the playbook to accommodate Williams’ short tenure in Norman.
Williams remains a fantastic QB prospect who has saved the team multiple times this year, and having him in the lineup undoubtedly raises the team’s ceiling. He should have a decorated career as a Sooner. Against the Bears, he made a handful of rookie mistakes against a defense run by one of the best defensive strategists in college football. It simply serves as a reminder that Williams is learning on the job in a situation with no grace period to acclimate.
Other notes from the Baylor game:
*Offensive line play around college football seems to be going through a fallow period, so the Sooners aren’t alone in this boat. Still, this current unit isn’t living up to OU-level expectations.
*I’ve made my complaints known about Riley’s drive management in field-goal range. I think it caught up with the Sooners yesterday.
OU’s first attempt came in the first quarter. On third down with four yards to go from the Baylor 34 yard line, Riley could have treated the situation as four-down territory. That would probably entail running on third down in hopes of either making the first down or setting up an easier conversion on fourth down. Instead, Williams threw an incompletion on a 10-yard route to tight end Brayden Willis. Kicker Gabe Brkic missed the ensuing 51-yard field goal. Brkic later missed a 40-yard try in the second quarter after the Williams threw an incompletion to Drake Stoops on third-and-two from the Baylor 23.
Once again: Riley having a kicker he trusts is as much curse as blessing.
*Baylor bludgeoned the Sooners with field position all day. On average OU started its possessions at its own 23. Baylor started at its own 35 on average. Six of the Bears’ 11 possessions started at their own 35 or better, including two in OU territory. OU’s best starting field position was its own 33.
*One of Baylor’s favorable starts came after Brkic booted a kickoff out of bounds, giving the Bears the ball at their own 35. It was one of a number of egregious penalties OU picked up. Notably, a taunting penalty given to nose tackle Perrion Winfrey in the third quarter turned third-and-seven on the OU 34 into a Baylor first down that eventually ended in points for the Bears.
*The OU defense appeared to clean up a number of issues during the bye week. Notably, the Sooners piled up 11 tackles for loss on 68 total offensive plays for the Bears. The dam eventually burst because OU’s offense couldn’t stay on the field, but can’t complain about the overall effort.
*Why isn’t Billy Bowman playing at nickel?