DALLAS — Mike Giovando likes to send a text message to his former pupil, Spencer Rattler, right after he finishes a game so it’ll be waiting for him when he gets to the locker room. After the Oklahoma quarterback completed a 53-45 quadruple-overtime win against No. 22 Texas on Saturday, the longtime quarterback coach sent Rattler just four words.
“Mental toughness over everything.”
Rattler, in one of the most grueling venues for a young player in college football, went from committing two early turnovers and having to sit out almost all of the second quarter, to commanding a better second half and a rollercoaster four-overtime victory that automatically became a classic in Sooner lore. Giovando, who was watching from his home in Arizona, let Rattler know how legendary of an overtime performance Rattler put on.
“I said that’s what I saw,” Giovando told The Daily after the game. “You could’ve got down on yourself. A couple turnovers and I’m sure things are going through your head. … He’s not like that. He’s not wired like that. He’s never gonna quit or give up. That’s not his deal.”
After Rattler threw an interception and committed a fumble, Oklahoma (2-2, 1-2, Big 12) head coach Lincoln Riley told Rattler, in his first OU-Texas start, that he needed to take a breather. Those errors led to 10 Texas points to tie the game, 10-10, at the beginning of the second quarter. The two turnovers marked his fifth and sixth turnovers of the season.
Rattler had trainers looking at his arm while he was on the sideline, and redshirt sophomore quarterback Tanner Mordecai entered the game. Rattler stayed on the bench for the rest of the second quarter not because of his arm, which Rattler said postgame was bothering him, but because Riley told him to take a break.
"I was kind of surprised when I came out at first,” Rattler said after the game, “then coach Riley told me, 'Just take a breather. You're gonna get back in there.’”
Indeed he did, as Rattler returned and ended up finishing the day with 209 passing yards and three touchdowns, along with one rushing touchdown.
Giovando, who’s known and coached Rattler ever since he was going into middle school in Arizona, had wanted to talk to Rattler about adversity over the last few weeks, with upset losses to Kansas State and Iowa State. In his first Big 12 start Sept. 26, Rattler struggled against the Kansas State defense at home, throwing three picks — something no Sooner quarterback had done since 2014, when Trevor Knight threw three picks against Clemson. Rattler improved a lot against Iowa State, throwing for 300 yards and two touchdowns along with a rushing touchdown.
But Giovando and Rattler still talked about the hurdles he’d have to face and how to move on from them.
“I think coach Riley’s obviously doing a great job with how he does with quarterbacks, with all of them," Giovando said. "Coach Riley told him, ‘Hey, just forget the last play and reset your mind and get to the next play. Get to the next play. Get to the next play. Don’t let the play before slow you down or hold you back or frustrate you.’ You gotta always think about the next play.”
When he came back to start the third quarter, the Sooners let running backs T.J. Pledger and redshirt freshman Marcus Major chew up the clock, with Pledger scoring two touchdowns in the second half. The Sooners had a 31-17 lead in the fourth quarter, because Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger orchestrated two consecutive fourth-quarter scoring drives, tying the game at 31-31 going into overtime.
Texas got the ball first in overtime and quickly clocked a 3-yard touchdown run from Ehlinger. In response, Rattler threw an 11-yard touchdown to sophomore H-back Austin Stogner to tie the game at 38-38. In triple overtime, when Ehlinger ran for a 25-yard touchdown, Rattler answered with one of his own, a 1-yard keeper to put the score at 45-45.
Getting the ball back in the last overtime, the biggest plays of the day came when Rattler connected with wide receiver Drake Stoops for a 25-yard touchdown, and converted a 2-point conversion with a pass to sophomore Theo Wease. Both plays, in his high school offensive coordinator Mike Brown’s opinion, looked familiar.
“That's vintage Spencer, man,” Brown told The Daily. “On the out route on that two pointer, just to put it where nobody else can get to it ... it's just a laser. That's his kind of accuracy on the run.”
That’s exactly what the Sooners needed on Saturday. When the Longhorns were goring the Sooners’ defense, Rattler came out to lead three-straight scoring drives. When his defense was on the field, he was cheering them on and encouraging younger players all the way to the game-sealing interception from cornerback Tre Brown. With a defense that’s struggled the past two weeks and a depleted running back core, Rattler needs to be a playmaker to make up for that.
OU-Texas is a pretty good game to do something that made this rivalry game a vintage classic.
“I thought his mentality and mindset and confidence was really good,” Riley said. “He's a guy that's gonna take any setbacks or any failures, and he's going to learn from them. He's not going to let them discourage him. He just has that way about him.”