With a two-game losing streak hanging over the Sooners' heads, head coach Lincoln Riley is ready for a bounce-back win in the Red River Showdown.
The Sooners (1-2, 0-2 Big 12) have suffered consecutive losses for the first time in the Riley era and are now set to face No. 22 Texas (2-1, 1-1 Big 12) at 11 a.m. CT Saturday. Despite more early-season hiccups than OU is used to and the reduced implications of the contest, Riley believes his quarterback has handled the situation well and the team is ready to compete with its longtime rival.
Here's what Riley had to say:
Tackling and turnovers
Riley admitted for the first time that perhaps his defense’s tackling prowess has been overshadowed by its turnover emphasis.
Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has preached turnovers since his arrival to Norman in 2019, though the Sooners have only had two in their first three games this season. Riley said it's possible the emphasis on takeaways can leak into OU's tackling abilities, which struggled mightily against Iowa State Oct. 3.
“I don't doubt at all that there's some correlation there, no question about it, and guys gotta understand where the turnovers come from. I can come in there just full speed out of control every now and then, you end up putting your head, your helmet on a ball, and a ball pops out, and that's great. But, I don't know that that's worth the number of missed tackles that you're probably going to have there too.
“And a lot of times for contact, it's going to be the second guy, it's going to be the third guy. It's the job of the first one to get them wrapped up. And that's no doubt where we have to be better. And I think our emphasis on turnovers and our guys wanting to get them so bad, has that been a part of our being a little out of control. I think it's very fair to say.”
Spencer Rattler’s mindset
Mostly, Rattler has had success in his first two conference games, throwing for about 300 or more yards and two or more touchdowns in both.
However, he’s also thrown four interceptions in that span, with two being game clinchers, as the much needed late game-winning drive remains elusive for the former five-star prospect.
Rattler’s been carrying the weight of his entire team on his shoulders, but regardless of past outcomes, Riley says his starter is in a good place psychologically.
“I think he’s handled it well. We've tried to stay just really focused on — and I don't know it’s necessarily just with him, (it’s) really the whole team — let's really break this thing down to what it is and the things that we're doing well, let's build on them. And he's doing many things very, very well and honestly...(he’s) maybe a little bit further ahead than I would have guessed at this point. There's things that he can improve on, like every player on this football team, and we're trying to stay focused on what those things are. But as far as his emotional state, his psyche, confidence, all that, he’s rock solid.
“He's a competitor. He knows he belongs in that arena. Of course he's going to continue to get better as the years go on. A great example is looking at the other sideline in this game (against Texas). I think this will be the fourth different quarterback I've rolled out there with (Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger) on the other side. And (I have a) ton of respect for him and the job that he's done to continue and to improve over the years, so yeah, Spencer's doing well. He's given our football team chances to win.
"Now, does that mean that there’s not areas he needs to improve? No. Of course there's areas that he needs to improve and we're gonna need him to continue to take those steps. But, I like the way he’s playing, I like where his head’s at and we're gonna keep pushing to get better and better.”
After both the Sooners and Longhorns suffered early conference losses last Saturday, some have questioned whether Texas or Oklahoma are viable Big 12 championship contenders.
While some believe Saturday’s rivalry game is not as important as it usually is due to the teams’ lackluster start and current standing in the conference hierarchy, to Riley, OU-Texas is just as crucial as it’s always been. It could also be motivation for the Sooners to get their season back on track.
“I don't know that it's any more or less important than it always is. ...It's an important game within our conference, regionally on a national scene ... I think it always matters … There's always kind of shock waves from it, but I don't know that it's any more important than it's ever been. And for a regular season game, it's about as good as you get and it’s about as good as you get every single year.
“I think when you've had some things not go your way, you've just got to be ready for the next challenge and however it presents itself to you. So, whether we were playing somebody else, playing Texas or (having) a bye week, I mean, if you're not playing the way that you want to and not finishing games that you feel like you should finish, there's no magic pill, and there's no easy way out of this. You've got to grind your way out of it, and you've got to work, and you've got to push and you've got to stay together.
"And so again, whether that's playing Texas, whether that's playing somebody else in our conference or whether that's a bye week, it's got to be a group that's going to attack the things that we know we need to improve.”