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‘He made a couple errors’: OU’s Caleb Williams struggles before being benched in Sooners’ devastating loss to Baylor

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Caleb Williams

Freshman quarterback Caleb Williams during the game against No. 13 Baylor in Waco on Nov. 13.

WACO — After Caleb Williams’ 19-yard run late in the second half, he didn’t quite look the same.

The freshman phenom, who’d recently blossomed into Heisman consideration, had his throwing hand stepped on by an opposing defender as he fell out of bounds near Baylor’s 31-yard line. Before reentering late in garbage time, the former five-star recruit was 3-for-8 on passing for 37 yards and an interception while taking two sacks after waving his hand in pain before a packed crowd of 46,782 at McLane Stadium. 

Sooners coach Lincoln Riley said the stepped-on hand likely bothered his quarterback. Williams’ final production — 10-for-19 passing with 146 yards, two interceptions and a rushing touchdown — wasn’t enough in Oklahoma’s 27-14 loss to No. 13 Baylor on Saturday afternoon, snapping its nation-leading 17-game win streak. 

OU’s quarterback controversy perhaps reopened amid Williams’ struggles, with redshirt sophomore Spencer Rattler entering with Oklahoma down 10-7 late in the third quarter. Rattler, who was benched for Williams against Texas on Oct. 9, failed to present a spark, finishing 4-of-6 passing for 36 yards in two drives, both resulting in punts.

“I don’t know how much that affected his throwing or not,” Riley said of Williams after the game. “It probably affected him a little bit. We were just a little stale, honestly. (Williams) had a little stress there in the second quarter and kind of began the third quarter where we had a few things that he missed that he just typically doesn’t miss. 

“So, I was looking for a little bit of a spark. Spencer had had a good week, and I’ve told you guys I feel like I’ve got a tremendous room there. And so I went with Spencer. And again, you’ve got to make those decisions in the heat of the moment (and) at that point I felt like it was the right decision.”

Oklahoma’s offense accumulated only 260 yards and 14 points, both its lowest totals under Riley. Baylor’s defense provided a tough test for both quarterbacks, even before Williams’ apparent ailment. Dave Aranda, the Bears’ head coach and former LSU defensive coordinator appears to have OU’s number, allowing just 269 yards against it last season, and 322 with LSU in 2019, which rank No. 2 and No. 4 respectively in lowest yards per game during Riley’s tenure. 

Williams’ first interception came on a forced pass into double coverage intended for redshirt sophomore receiver Jadon Haselwood. His other interception was off a broken play, where Williams faked a handoff despite standing alone in the backfield before tossing a throw directly into a defender's hands near redshirt junior running back Kennedy Brooks. 

Oklahoma’s top two receivers in yardage entering the game, sophomore Marvin Mims and redshirt sophomore Jadon Haselwood, combined for just 68 yards on four catches. Senior receiver Mike Woods led the Sooners in receiving against the Bears with four catches for 53 yards, while redshirt senior H-back Jeremiah Hall was third in receiving yards, with only two catches for 24 yards. 

Despite Riley chalking up the offense’s shortcomings to multiple reasons, he acknowledged Williams’ failures and frustrations. 

“He made a couple errors here and there,” Riley said. “I think most of his frustration came from, we felt like, we had a lot of plays there that we, for some reason or another, didn’t make. … I think just some general frustration on not executing the way that we know we can and not making the plays that were there for the taking.”

With the game all but out of reach and the Sooners down 24-7 with less than four minutes remaining, Williams returned for their last drive. He needed just four plays to march 75 yards in under three minutes. Brooks punched in the meaningless 1-yard score, finishing with 51 yards on 13 carries.

Despite the insignificant final offensive drive for Oklahoma, perhaps it was a glimmer of Williams returning to form ahead of facing Iowa State at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 20, barring another quarterback change. However, the Sooners will likely need improvement under center, as the Cyclones rank No. 4 nationally in total defense, allowing just 282.4 yards per game. 

“We have faith in both quarterbacks,” said Hall, one of OU’s team captains. “So we’ve all had our days. Caleb was able to get back in the game, and we were able to get things going.”

Austin Curtright is a journalism junior and one of The Daily's assistant sports editors. He covers OU football and has previously covered OU men's basketball, softball and soccer.

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