During the second quarter against Tulane, Oklahoma looked like a complete team.
The Sooners outscored the Green Wave 23-0 and looked dominant on both ends of the field. But in the other three quarters combined, the Sooners were outscored 35-17.
After Saturday’s scare, the focus for the team is finding a way to string together complete games. That was the message during the team’s media availability on Tuesday.
“If we’ve got any chance of being a good football team, we’ve got to figure out how to play four quarters and our mentality not being affected by the scoreboard, our opponent, anything else,” said OU coach Lincoln Riley. “That is the sole focus of our program right now.”
It’s a problem the Sooners had at times last season, too.
The Sooners held halftime leads in both games they lost. Against Kansas State, they led 21-7 before losing 38-35; they led 17-13 against Iowa State before losing 37-30.
A sluggish second half almost cost them the Big 12 title in their rematch against Iowa state, leading 24-7 at intermission before escaping with a 27-21 win.
It’s an issue defensive coordinator Alex Grinch is familiar with.
“In terms of the performance in the second half, watching the scoreboard to dictate your performance is a slippery slope on every side of it, when the scoreboard is in your favor and when it’s not in your favor,” Grinch said. “I certainly think the film suggests we’re guilty of it.
“Our history suggests we’re guilty of that, at times, which isn’t a proud moment for a coach to say that.”
How do the Sooners fix it?
Riley and Grinch pointed towards better preparation throughout the week, which Grinch mentioned was a slight area of concern before the Tulane game.
“You can go back and look at our week of preparation and there’s some things that suggest there were some things in the game that were really bright moments and there were some things that suggest our consistency level was not where it needed to be,” Riley said. “Our practice week was very telling of what it could become.”
But the answer could also simply be improved play from quarterback Spencer Rattler.
The redshirt sophomore had up-and-down moments against Tulane, similar to his inconsistent play at the beginning of last season. He threw two interceptions, one coming on the second play of the game, and had a third interception negated after a controversial pass interference call against Tulane.
Riley is confident his quarterback will perform better as the season progresses, but said Rattler still has things to improve on.
“I think there were some times in the game, [including the] second play of the game and a couple others specifically in the second half, [where there was] some frustration and he tried to make too much happen,” Riley said. “... Some of the other plays just throughout the game, and not only on passing plays, he just wasn’t mentally as sharp.
“The whole group was pretty symptomatic of the same thing, I mean, just in the focus and the edge just wasn’t there.”
The Sooners have an opportunity to get back on track this Saturday in a matchup against Western Carolina. It’s a game the team should win without any issues.
But after narrowly avoiding a loss against Tulane last week, the Sooners need to find ways to ensure they don’t have another upset scare.
“There’s a lot of good players in I-AA football and the coaches are just as good as they are at this level. So it’s another game for us,” Riley said. “It’s a good opponent. We’re excited to play them…We’ve got to play four quarters as a team. That’s job number one, two and three right now.”