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OU football: With keys to Sooners’ offense, NIL cars in hand, Spencer Rattler believes he’ll keep the two in separate garages

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Spencer Rattler

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Spencer Rattler during the game against Nebraska on Sept. 18.

Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler recently received a sturdy Ram truck and a sleek Dodge sports car, courtesy of a name, image and likeness deal with nearby Fowler Auto.

That’s just the latest souped-up agreement the preseason Heisman Trophy favorite has garnered, after landing offseason endorsements with Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers and Plant-Fueled Protein. His earnings have been further fueled by a flashy personal merchandise line, and the pricey autographs he signed at the National Sports Collectors Convention in July.

Rattler has steered his newfound compensation powers like a veteran NASCAR competitor. However, his maneuvering of a figurative automobile, OU coach Lincoln Riley’s offense, hasn’t matched the precedent set by previous drivers Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts — all Heisman winners or finalists turned NFL starters.

“These first three games haven’t been the games we've all wanted to have,” Rattler said. “I haven't played to my best yet, and it’s coming. That’s really it. We’ve gotta play better, and I'll play better and we'll be good.”

Currently, No. 4 Oklahoma (3-0) is ranked 33rd nationally in yards per play after finishing 10th last season and first from 2017-19 under Mayfield, Murray and Hurts. Rattler is 35th in passing yards per game and 60th in yards per attempt after ending 2020 ranked 17th and 10th in those categories.

Already, detractors point to his two interceptions against Tulane and dangerous incompletions versus Nebraska as signs he’s overwhelmed by Heisman expectations and NIL grandeur.

“Yeah, these people don’t really know anything they’re talking about,” Rattler said of disparagers. “They haven't played quarterback at a Power Five program, unless, obviously, some people have and they know what it's like when these defenses come out, they know the type of schemes we run. But it really just comes down to just playing ball, and being cleaner.

“There isn't any distractions. It’s straight football, and that's my focus.”

According to Riley, part of OU’s lack of explosive plays has been just “how it’s played out.” The Sooners have missed some opportunities, and he admits he has incorrectly chosen calls at other times. That came to a head against Nebraska when Oklahoma scored 23 points, its fewest during Riley’s tenure.

“Our big deal offensively is we’ve gotta play with all 11 more often,” Riley said. “We're doing some good things, and actually, probably from when I left the field Saturday afternoon, getting to watch the tape, we played actually a little bit better offensively than I felt leaving.”

Additionally, Rattler has attributed the offensive struggles to changes in the coverage OU is facing. The Green Wave and Cornhuskers both kept multiple safeties deep against the Sooners, attempting to prevent throws over the defense.

“These teams know what we like to do,” Rattler said. “We got guys that can get down the field, and a lot of people don't understand, they’re quick to say this and that, but a lot of people don't understand what defenses are trying to do versus us. They like to take away the deep shots so we can stay underneath and they can rally to the ball.”

On his first throw against Tulane, Rattler forced an interception, but since then he’s been trying to take advantage of what defenses give him. Of Rattler’s 46 completions this season, only 10 have gone for over 20 yards, good for just 30.4 percent of all his passes. Despite that, OU has won via time-of-possession dominance and stout defense. The Sooners engineered 14, 10 and 12 plays on their respective scoring drives against the Huskers.

And, Rattler steadily continues to develop rapport with a different supporting cast than he had a year ago. While OU retained 2020 freshman All-American Marvin Mims, its receiving corps was remodeled by Arkansas transfer Mike Woods, freshman standout Mario Williams and redshirt sophomore Jadon Haselwood’s return from injury.

Rattler also has two new running backs in junior Tennessee transfer Eric Gray and redshirt junior Kennedy Brooks. The latter opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns, but believes his team is poised for a jumpstart.

“It's all coming together,” Brooks said. “Just like Coach Riley said, we just gotta play 11-man football and everything is going to flow together. So, we’ll continue to work every day and it's gonna piece in.”

The road to a potential seventh-straight Big 12 Championship opens Saturday, when Oklahoma faces West Virginia (2-1) at 6:30 p.m. CT in Norman. Whether the Sooners win the conference race again hinges on Rattler’s ability to keep finances and performance in separate garages.

Sports editor

Mason Young is the OU Daily's sports editor and covers OU football. He was previously assistant sports editor and has covered women's gym, wrestling and former Sooners in the NFL. Email Mason at masyoung@ou.edu and follow him on Twitter @Mason_Young_0

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