NORMAN — The Sooner offense coach Lincoln Riley previously claimed to be only “a tick off” is so challenged that on the day it scored the fewest points of the Riley era for a second straight week, managing 95 fewer yards than the week before, too, the correct takeaway is no longer about the horribleness of that offense, but about how Oklahoma’s won four straight games to begin the season despite it.
That’s where Riley was after the game.
“We’ve found some ways where we haven’t been at our best to win some football games,” he said.
Well, that, or he hired the right defensive coordinator and the program’s done a better job recruiting defenders since Alex Grinch came along.
Maybe just that.
Whatever, it’s not where the offense is supposed to be, it’s not where Spencer Rattler’s supposed to be and it’s not where the offensive line is supposed to be.
The fourth-ranked team in the nation is not supposed to beat unranked West Virginia 16-13 at home.
Once, Lincoln Riley’s Sooner offenses reminded you of Steve Spurrier’s at Florida. In fact, they were better than those Gator offenses. Now, the Sooner offense reminds you of Spurrier at South Carolina.
Those Gamecocks won games, too, but they didn’t score much.
Yet, here we are.
Past the point of wondering “is this who they are?” and at the point where, when thinking about the next game, whoever the next game’s against, you’re left to expect the Sooner offense that showed up against Tulane, Nebraska and West Virginia to be the Sooner offense that will show up that day, too.
“Offensively, still trying to find ourselves a little bit,” Riley said. “We’re not where we want to be obviously.”
We should be past the point, too, of wondering why Riley keeps downplaying the struggles — “… to find ourselves a little” — because when the struggle is so clear, he can say whatever he wants.
Saturday night at Owen Field, the offense was so lackluster before the half that a chant rang out in the student section on the east side of the stadium.
“We want Caleb.”
“We want Caleb.”
There are many Calebs but the Caleb they were asking for is OU’s true freshman backup quarterback, who proved he belonged in the spring game at a time he should have been a high school senior.
They were asking for him following a pair of possessions in which Rattler dramatically fell short, tumbling to the ground on a scramble up the middle before there was anybody to meet him a yard short of the first-down marker, as though he didn’t know where it was; followed by a throw that sailed on him, yes, but was never really there, intended for Drake Stoops, yet intercepted by Jackie Matthews, the second Mountaineer to touch it.
So, we’re past waiting for the Sooners to snap out of it. We’re past wondering why they’re in a funk.
You can believe they’ll improve over time. They always have under Riley, always better in November than September.
Still, remember those quaint days when OU wasn’t a second-half team? It’s now neither a first-half nor a second-half team, just one with a very sturdy defense capable of keeping it in games long enough to find something.
That was Saturday.
You may have forgotten, but OU scored on three of its last four drives, driving 64 yards, 62 yards and 80 yards.
The last one was the longest and it led to what is being touted as the first walk-off field goal in program history, the first one to leave no time on the clock.
Also, every one of those scoring drives yielded only three points and in every one, OU marched, never sprinting, needing 10 plays, then 16, then 14, because nothing comes easily for this offense and we should quit expecting it to.
It’s not all Rattler.
“We’ve got to play a lot better around him,” Riley said and though he didn’t mention his offensive line, he should have.
The Sooners gained 57 yards on 28 carries, which is 2 yards per tote with a yard left over and it’s legit awful, and there’s nobody Riley wants to play behind Eric Gray and Kennedy Brooks, leaving the line as the variable, not his ball carriers.
Yet, OU won.
It had been a few minutes since a question had been asked of Riley that included reference to the students’ chant, yet he seemed to be reacting to it, still, with some fire, when he offered this:
“It takes a lot of balls to do what we did there at the end,” recalling the 80 yards in 14 plays that set [Gabe] Brkic up for the game winner. “People better see that, too.”
They should also be thrilled their team won on a day it scored only one touchdown, almost 48 minutes before claiming victory on the last play of the game.