On Wednesday, Lincoln Riley fielded questions during the Oklahoma Sooners’ presser portion of the 2021 Big 12 Media Days. Below are highlights of some of the fifth year head coach’s answers from today’s address. In case you missed it, you can check out the full press conference through this link.
Riley on getting over the hump in the postseason
It’s no secret that OU has had its share of struggles on the stage of the College Football Playoff, going 0-4 in such games. Better than anyone, Lincoln Riley understands the importance of flipping the script after being part of each of the aforementioned contests (one as a coordinator, three as a head coach).
“You know, this is Oklahoma. Every year is the year to do that. It takes a lot to get it done, there’s no question about it. I think for us and our team right now, I think we have a genuine excitement and confidence about the people in the room right now. We have enough ability in the room, and we have people who are invested wholly in what we can be as a team. Then for us, I think our focus kind of zeroes back in on getting to the best version of ourselves. If we do that, then things will happen the way they’re supposed to happen.”
Riley on what Eric Gray brings to the team
It’s been a bit of a tumultuous offseason for backs in Norman, losing one RB to the draft and two more would-be ball carriers to dismissals. Yet, since arriving to the team in January, former Tennessee transfer running back Eric Gray has thoroughly impressed both his teammates and his coaches at Oklahoma with his abilities as a dynamic playmaker at a position of sudden need. Riley touched on his impression of Gray.
“I can’t say enough about (Gray). Walking in here, day one, he’s a true professional. I told somebody earlier, it feels like he’s been in our program for months or years already. It literally felt like that the day he walked in the door. Just a very business-like attitude. He’s done and exceeded honestly everything that we’ve put in front of him. He learned the offense quickly. He really got acclimated with his teammates and with the university quickly. He does everything right. You can see why the guy’s had some success early on in his career. You combine that with some good experience, and we’re thrilled to have him.”
Riley on the proposal for playoff expansion
Last month, a sub-group from the CFP management committee presented a proposal that would increase the number of playoff qualifying teams from four to 12. It should be noted that an official change cannot be made until after the 2025-26 season, but the topic has generated differing opinions that are either for or against the proposal. Riley was asked for his thoughts on the polarizing subject.
“I think the expansion that’s been proposed is a great start. I commend the committee that put it together because you gotta put yourself out there. You gotta start somewhere. I think their proposal was really good in a lot of ways. I think it addressed maintaining the bowls which are so important to the history of our game. I think it addressed getting the conference champions in the playoff, which needed to happen. I think it addressed a pathway for a Group of Five member to be able to get into the playoffs which honestly hasn’t been realistic under the current system. In my mind all of those are great things.”
Riley on the moment the defense took the next step
Not long after Alex Grinch was hired to take over Oklahoma’s defensive coordinator duties in 2018 did that side of the ball begin to show dramatic improvement. Fast-forward three years, and the Sooners are now believed to have one of the top defensive units in the nation going into the 2021 season. Riley was asked about if there was a moment he and his staff recognized a significant turn for the better, defensively.
“Defensively, yeah I don’t know that there was the eureka, Hollywood moment. I think it felt like, just kind of constant improvement from day one. We’ve made some big, big plays in big games, especially to close out games over the last few years, and I think those in particular do something for the psyche and confidence of an individual player or side of the ball that are hard to duplicate. I think it’s just been a real consistent process. I really point to the defensive line becoming a strength of this team and one of the best defensive lines in college football. That really stands out to me.”
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