NORMAN — Where, oh where, has the Sooner offense gone?
Is it hiding on the practice field? Is it hiding in Lincoln Riley’s imagination? Is it being lost in the walk from the locker room to the game field?
Is it simply unavailable because unloading any more of the playbook would mean taking on too much risk or asking too much from the quarterback?
Or is it just a football rule that if you’re going to have an historic offense, you must live with a horrendous defense and if you’re going have a championship defense, you don’t get to have a great offense?
Maybe that one.
Oklahoma beat Nebraska 23-16 on Saturday, offering a Big Red rivalry winning score right out of 1974 (28-14), 1976 (27-20), 1979 (17-14) and 1980 (21-17).
Of course, scores like that, just fine then, are alarming now.
Then, it was two top 10 teams going at it.
Then, they were cold weather games in November.
Then, offensive coaches had not yet realized how much space exists on a football field and that 11 defenders can’t begin to cover it all. Hal Mumme and Mike Leach had yet to reinvent everything.
Now, it is Riley, the offensive genius, manning the Sooner program.
Now, Norman is Heisman Quarterback Central, crowning four and claiming two runners-up since 2000.
Now, one week after scoring 76 points against Western Carolina, anything less than half that many is shocking, even against Nebraska.
You’d think so, but right now, that’s just not OU, and it hasn’t been OU for a little while. The struggles did not begin in the second half against Tulane.
Never since Riley became head coach had the Sooners ever scored fewer than the 23 they scored on Saturday, but it’s not like the previous low was forever ago. The previous low was 27, back to back, in the final game of last year’s regular season against Baylor and the Big 12 title game, a week later, against Iowa State.
Before those games last season, OU’s slightest point output had been 30 in their Oct. 3 loss at Iowa State and their lowest yardage output had been 430 the same day.
Against the Bears, OU finished with only 269 yards, then 392 against the Cyclones at Jerry’s World.
Against Tulane this season, it was 430 again, which is not much for a Riley-coordinated offense. Saturday against the Huskers it was 408.
In 2019, the last time a full slate of FBS football teams played a full slate of FBS football games, TCU’s total offense average was 407.7 yards, good for 62nd in the nation.
Rattler and Riley both offered interesting takes.
“We like to go, we like to take shots, do this and that,” Rattler said “But honestly, throughout the day, I thought we weren’t that bad, as it ‘looked.’”
He actually held up his right hand to make the rabbit ear quote marks when he said “looked.”
It’s hard to know how something can be not as bad as something looks and not as bad as something can be measured, because OU finished the first-half with seven points, which seems more challenged than “not that bad.”
It took a second-and-1 trick play — a pitch to Mario Williams, a throw back to Rattler, who threw to Marvin Mims — to jump start the drive that would finally give OU its second touchdown in the third quarter. It was great fun, but also a measure of what was required to get OU moving.
There was also the fact the play netted 23 yards and not one play the whole game netted the Sooners any more.
“We’re just a tick off,” he said. “We’re going to get there, though, I promise you.”
That’s not coachspeak. Coachspeak would have been Riley saying that he believes his offense will get there, is confident his offense will get there, not promising that his offense will get there, which is just what he did.
Really, it’s a shame he didn’t say “guarantee,” leaving everybody to get Joe Namath into their copy.
When no longer a tick off, perhaps his offense won’t go three-and-out right after the most amazing one-handed interception you’ve ever seen from D.J. Graham, as though it gave OU no momentum at all.
When no longer a tick off, perhaps the Sooners don’t even face the possibility of third-and-4, when not getting it means the opponent getting one more possession to go tie or win it, because that’s exactly what Nebraska got with 57 seconds remaining, taking over at their own 17, which is an improvement over the Tulane opener, when the Green Wave got the chance from their own 47 with 2:17 remaining.
When no longer a tick off, perhaps more than execution, we might even see Rattler offer something of an “IT” factor, something beyond all the physical tools we know he has.
Or maybe the electricity and explosiveness is just gone and against any quality opponent it’s bound to be about the grind.
The defense was good.