As Spencer Rattler paced toward the southeast tunnel of Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, broadcast cameras followed while a handful of OU fans shouted his name, hoping to catch his attention.
“These are the fans I care about,” the redshirt sophomore quarterback said, little more than two quarters after large swaths of 84,353 others in attendance had seemingly spurned him for good.
Caught Spencer Rattler saying this right after the game as the broadcast was closing out: "These are the fans I care about." Some SERIOUS first world problems for Oklahoma fans in booing him lol pic.twitter.com/ZLckkXtP0S— Asher Low (@alow_33) September 26, 2021
Less than four minutes remained in the second quarter of No. 4 Oklahoma’s (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) Big 12 opener against West Virginia (2-2, 0-1) when Rattler tossed his third interception of the season, eliciting an uproar from the home crowd. In particular, the Sooners’ student section defiantly clamored against the preseason Heisman Trophy favorite, roaring for his removal with three words:
“We want Caleb!”
Exasperated by the disappearance of the flashy plays and bludgeoning offense they’d witnessed from Rattler last season, fans chanted for freshman Caleb Williams, a former five-star prospect and the Sooners’ backup. Undeterred by the chant and a broader bevy of boos, Rattler used the halftime break to refocus and went back to work in the second half.
With under four minutes left in the fourth quarter and the score knotted 13-13, Rattler propelled Oklahoma on a game-winning drive culminating in kicker Gabe Brkic’s field goal as time expired, handing the Sooners their first walk-off win in program history. Rattler finished the contest against the Mountaineers on 26-of-36 passing for 256 yards and a touchdown, silencing critics among the sellout crowd with a victorious final drive.
“I don’t listen to them,” Rattler told ESPN's Holly Rowe of booing fans after the game. “They’re not on the field.”
“I don’t listen to them, they’re not on the field”Spencer Rattler on the home crowd booing him pic.twitter.com/aEr5O2gLpB— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 26, 2021
After OU won the coin toss and deferred to the second half, Rattler didn’t touch the ball until nine minutes and seven seconds into the game, after West Virginia churned a 17-yard, 75-play touchdown drive. He quickly responded, guiding the Sooners to a tying score on their first possession via a touchdown pass to junior H-back Austin Stogner.
The Sooners didn’t capitalize on their next two drives, punting consecutively before Rattler’s interception on OU’s fourth possession. While sagging onto his back foot, he floated a pass toward redshirt junior receiver Drake Stoops near the sideline that was tipped by one defender and snatched by another.
This INT was smoooooth 👀 pic.twitter.com/DWLDhLmjLM— ESPN (@espn) September 26, 2021
Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley said afterward the pick was the product of a busted route and was actually one of Rattler’s better throws on the evening. Regardless, the Sooner faithful came unglued, beckoning for Williams.
“(I’m) listening to the crowd chant the other dude's name, and I just keep thinking, ‘You guys are so spoiled. Are you kidding me?,'” said Mike Giovando, Rattler’s longtime quarterback trainer, who watched the broadcast from Arizona.
“The fans get spoiled, these programs get spoiled, think they're gonna blow everybody out by three touchdowns every game and start reading all the press clippings and how this team should do this to that team. It’s played on the field. It ain't played on paper, it ain't played with words.”
Rattler and Giovando regularly communicate during the week, and before Saturday, the pupil had told his instructor he expected the Mountaineers to present a challenge. West Virginia did just that, as its offense outpaced OU’s by six minutes in time of possession, and its defense sacked Rattler four times after he’d only been sacked twice through the Sooners’ first three games.
Despite opposition from the visiting players and home fans, Rattler responded immediately in the second half after OU faced a 10-7 deficit at halftime. He positioned his squad for a game-tying field goal to open the third quarter, before West Virginia retook a 13-10 lead with a kick of its own. In reply, Rattler and the Sooners ate the first six minutes of the fourth quarter, garnering another Brkic field goal to tie the game 13-13.
When West Virginia botched a snap with under four minutes left, forcing it to punt, Rattler was poised as ever with a chance to win the game. He completed 15 of his final 16 passes, including all six on OU’s decisive possession, going 80 yards on 14 plays and setting up Brkic’s boot for the win. In pressure situations, Rattler has come a long way since losing back-to-back Big 12 games near the start of last season and emerging from a second quarter benching against Texas in the Red River Showdown.
“Spencer doesn't do what he did tonight last year,” Giovando said. “He doesn't take you down the field and win the game like that, in my opinion. He was way more under control, didn't try to force anything, just orchestrated the drive to win the game, and people better appreciate that because that's not easy to do, to go 80 yards ... and the dude was money.”
Rattler put the Sooners on his back, finding a way to win despite a dysfunctional offensive line, a running game that produced a measly 57 yards — its fewest in a game under Riley — and the outside noise demanding his replacement. For the second straight week, OU scored its fewest points in the Riley era yet still walked away unscathed.
“It always helps us a lot more when our fan base supports us, I'll come out and say that,” Riley said fervently. “I want to play better offensively more than anybody out there, but them being behind us is what helps us. Spencer handled it, it didn't bother him at all, and honestly, as I was evaluating it through the game, we’ve gotta play a lot better around him.
“Spencer and, again, the whole offense, we’ll own what we didn't do well. We're not going to shy away from that. I'll tell you what, it takes a lot of balls to do what we did there at the end, so people better see that too.”
Overall, Rattler didn’t play poorly, nearing 300 passing yards and completing 72 percent of his throws. Giovando didn’t have many critiques, aside from a third quarter end zone incompletion to redshirt sophomore receiver Jadon Haselwood where he felt Rattler could’ve stepped up in the pocket more.
Next week, Oklahoma faces No. 25 Kansas State, which picked off Rattler three times during a 38-35 upset in Norman last season. The Sooners will be looking to avoid a third straight loss to the Wildcats after also slipping in Manhattan in 2019. Should OU face another tense situation, Rattler’s play against the Mountaineers, especially after his own fans betrayed him, may indicate he’s ready for the challenge.
“To me, it was the absolute best second half,” Giovando said. “Now you know when you get in a tough one and you need to go 80 to win it, this kid's gonna do it.
“If the fans want to turn on you, or at the drop of a hat, try to disrespect you or whatever, they're not at practice with you, they're not in the weight room with you, they're not in the locker room with you. They didn't go through everything you went through. Who cares what they think? You're really playing for your teammates at the end of the day, and if the fans want to show up and support their team, then they can enjoy the win as well.”