NORMAN — Oklahoma used six consecutive run plays to set up a deep passing opportunity late in the third quarter of its win last week over Oklahoma State.
Jalen Hurts swung out a short throw to Jeremiah Hall, who did most of the work himself on a 30-yard gain. There was nothing wrong with that pickup, which covered nearly a third of the total scoring drive’s distance.
The only qualm was that OU’s Biletnikoff Award candidate receiver, CeeDee Lamb, was open for a likely touchdown on the same play.
As OU’s offense has recalibrated its rushing attack — using Hurts and Kennedy Brooks in harmony to much success — utilizing its electric receivers has become a challenge.
Lamb has been one of the nation’s most dangerous receivers after the catch this season, but has six catches and 10 targets the past two games.
After Hurts missed him in the open field at OSU, Lamb was shown on ABC’s broadcast clasping his hands in disgust, shaking his head and tapping his helmet twice while walking back toward Hurts and the OU huddle.
“Mentally, I have to do better understanding where I’m at and the position I’m in,” Lamb said when asked if he’s been frustrated lately. “I just feel like I wanted to do more. But we’re gonna be good.”
Sunday, Lamb captioned an Instagram post with the phrase “Don’t let your emotions overpower your intelligence.”
Keeping everyone happy in a high-flying offense is an annual balance for OU coach Lincoln Riley and whoever’s quarterbacking the Sooners.
Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield were proven distributors in Riley’s passing scheme the past two seasons. Rarely did a long ball not hit its mark during that span. Hurts, while he’s been a force running the ball and statistically is the driving force behind OU’s 564.3 yards and 44.3 points per game, hasn’t matched their proficiency in that area.
Lamb, a junior who is likely bound for the NFL next season, has been climbing OU's all-time receiving charts for two seasons and counting. Keeping him involved remains important for the Sooners’ success.
He missed last month's game against Baylor due to a health issue, but is physically and mentally fine, Riley said.
The negative body language that showed up on TV is sometimes a product of routine emotion, Riley added, and the coaching staff handles it on an individual basis.
“I think you’ve gotta know your players. You’ve gotta know them and is this something from different from how they carry themselves on a daily basis? You get all the time that if something doesn’t go right, guys, they may not be jumping up and down and that. But we’ve really emphasized it a lot in the past couple weeks,” Riley said. “If you looked at our sideline the last couple weeks, you’ll see a ton of positive body language. I don’t think it’s a coincidence the way we’ve played, the way we’ve been able to play when games have gotten tight. I think this team has a lot of positive vibes right now.
“In general, that’s a tough thing sometimes because players’ expectations are high and coaches’ and everybody’s. It’s such an emotional game. You want emotional players, but they've got to handle it the right way.”
As was the case when OU running backs’ carries decreased earlier in the season, Riley reiterated that touches fluctuate in a balanced offense. Lamb’s perceived dissatisfaction hasn’t been a topic inside the locker room.
“Those things have probably been bigger stories on the outside than they’ve honestly been within our walls,” he said
As for Hurts' role, he says he's running the plays that are called.
“I want everybody to go crazy and have great games, do all these great things, but in reality as long as we’re 1-0 that week that’s really all that matters,” Hurts said. “I just think it’s about the team, doing what’s best for the team. Whatever coach Riley calls, whoever’s number he calls in the game, whoever he’s trying to get the ball, that’s what we go out there and execute. Maybe it’s a running back, maybe it’s a receiver here and there, maybe it’s me. Regardless, it’s about doing what’s best for the team and winning.”
OU vs. Baylor
When: Saturday, 11 a.m.
Place: AT&T Stadium | Arlington, Texas
Rankings/records: CFP No. 6/AP No. 6 OU (11-1); CFP No. 7/AP No. 8 Baylor (11-1)
Line: OU (-9.5)
Radio: KRXO-FM 107.7