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OU football: Inside Lincoln Riley's signature trick play, the 'Sooner Special'

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Lincoln Riley

OU coach Lincoln Riley during the Bedlam game against Oklahoma State Nov. 30.

When Nick Basquine found Jalen Hurts wide open in the end zone Saturday against Oklahoma State, the play was all too familiar for Oklahoma and football fans. It was the "Philly Special" or, as OU players and coaches call it, the "Sooner Special."

A double reverse pass back to the quarterback. 

"We've had it for a couple weeks," head coach and offensive guru Lincoln Riley said Monday. "Just kind of been looking for the right time. Everything lined up where we thought it was the right play at the right time."

It's become Riley's signature trick play since the first time he ran it back in the 2017 Rose Bowl, with now junior wide receiver CeeDee Lamb and former quarterback Baker Mayfield. The two plays, while slightly different, both worked to perfection.

College Football: Oklahoma at Oklahoma State | Fox

College Football: Oklahoma at Oklahoma State | Fox

"Plays like that, there's so much to it," Riley said. "Your skillset, what they do defensively, the timing — I mean, there's a lot that's got to be right for those to work."

So when and where did Riley exactly draw up the "Sooner Special"?

The play originates from former Arkansas head coach Chad Morris, who first ran it at Clemson in 2012 when he was the offensive coordinator for the Tigers. The play, of course, was then replicated by other teams, including the Chicago Bears in 2016 and, most notably, by the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII just 35 days after Riley and the Sooners did in the Rose Bowl. 

According to former Oklahoma center Erick Wren and former backup quarterback Reece Clark, Riley installed the trick play before the 2017 season. 

"A lot of times in fall camp, we would do 2-point conversion competitions or overtime competitions or something like that, where Lincoln might draw something up on the spot and just kind of practice it to see how well we run it," said Clark, who played at OU from 2015 to 2018. "Further down in the season, we might say, 'Hey, we ran this well in practice, we might run it in a game.' And that's kind of what we did."

Wren recalls when the play was first installed, he was amazed by it. But he never thought they would end up using it in a game.

"I didn't really seeing ourselves using it," said Wren, who played at OU from 2015 to 2017. "I knew it was a really good play. You catch them in man coverage or an overly aggressive zone in the red zone, that's a great play to run. When it was first installed, I was like, 'Man, this is sweet.'"

When preparing for the Sooners' 2017 College Football Playoff matchup with Georgia in the Rose Bowl, Riley brought the play back. Clark and Wren remember running the play at least once or twice every practice leading up to the game, knowing they would likely use it in either the semifinals or national championship. 

"It was definitely a part of the game plan," Wren said. "It could have been used for Georgia or Alabama if we would have made it to the national championship."

When Riley called the play late in the second quarter with a 24-14 lead, Clark and Wren said everyone knew it was going to result in a touchdown. 

"There was always plays that we would install before games that we would all say, 'Damn, if we get that look, it's a touchdown for sure.' That was one of them," Clark said. "I knew it was coming. And, really, after watching the film all week and knowing CeeDee's ability to throw the ball, I knew there would be a good outcome." 

"I'm probably most confident in that play than any other. Don't tell Coach Riley that," Lamb joked. "I like that play honestly because (you) get a couple 'oohs and aahs,' but other than that, I like the design."

Those who have run it said what makes the play work is the ability to use other players as decoys. 

For example, in 2017 then-fullback Dimitri Flowers played the role of the decoy. All season, Flowers had been the Sooners' short yardage go-to player, so when he lined up in the backfield on third and goal from the 2-yard line, Georgia assumed the ball was going to him.

When it was tossed to Flowers, the Bulldogs bit hard before it was reversed to Lamb. Then Lamb played as a decoy, as he made Georgia's linebacker commit to the run by taking just a few steps forward before letting the ball go to a wide open Mayfield. 

"It's a hard sell for the offensive line. You've got to sell it hard because you want those linebackers to take a step or two," Wren said. "That's when you create more space for yourself on the backside. It's a hard sell outside zone ... CeeDee did a phenomenal job selling the run ... Baker didn't have to do much but hide himself in the back of the end zone."

Saturday's "Sooner Special" was a bit different. This time, Oklahoma lined up in shotgun and tossed it to Lamb on a reverse, who was the decoy, before he gave it to Basquine — Oklahoma's most reliable wide receiver passer. 

"We knew we were going to call it close to the goal line," Basquine said. "It just happened to be that opportunity, and then he just called it, and then you just got to make sure you execute it." 

This isn't the first time Oklahoma has run some version of the play this season. The Sooners ran almost an exact replica against Kansas. 

The only thing that has remained the same is that Basquine is almost always the one to throw the ball. He's 2-of-3 on the season, throwing an interception against Kansas State on a tipped ball and a different trick play.

The sixth-year senior said the reason behind him being chosen to throw is because of his baseball background and, well, he throws a better ball than his teammates — at least according to him.

"They knew I played baseball," Basquine said. "But then last year, we kind of had a tryout because other dudes were trying to say they could throw better than me. I quickly put that to rest in practice ... It looked pretty bad from other guys. I don't want to say any names, but yeah I kind of blew that away."

Lamb, the only other receiver on OU's roster to have attempted a pass in his career, said he's just as a good a passer as Basquine. 

"He didn't beat me out," Lamb said with a laugh. He's 1-of-1 in his career with a touchdown. 

No matter who's throwing the ball, Riley has a pretty good track record with the "Sooner Special." And for him, that's all that matters. 

"Like everybody says, when they work, they look great," Riley said. "When they don't, they look like a disaster. There's normally no middle ground with those ... It's awesome or awful."

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I joined The Daily in the fall of 2016 as a sophomore. I've covered the soccer team, both men's and women's basketball, as well as the football team for the past two years. I have been the sports editor since spring 2018.

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