Missouri State’s football team was ready to leave its Springfield, Missouri, campus last Friday when it received the green light to make the trek to Norman for its season opener against Oklahoma.
One of the last things OU coach Lincoln Riley wanted was the Bears to make the trip, only to be sent home without a football game to play.
OU was thankful it never came to that with its COVID-19 testing and contact tracing allowing it to proceed with its game last Saturday at Owen Field. But it was able to let Missouri State know in a timely fashion, because of the Big 12’s partnership with Virtual Care for Families for rapid antigen testing.
“After testing the whole team, it probably took in the neighborhood of about two hours to have all the results,” Riley said, “where typically, I would say on average, if we test the team at some point in the morning, we've been normally getting those results late at night. Sometimes very, very early in the morning — somewhere in the 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. range.”
Virtual Care For Families' Quidel Rapid Antigen tests provided 15-minute results and batch testing capabilities.
The quicker results are a huge benefit to each Big 12 school, which is required to test its players and staff on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Riley said OU’s season opener against Missouri State “hung in the balance” with the team waiting to find out if it would meet the 53-player threshold for competition.
A Big 12 team can also be withheld from competition if it doesn't have at least seven offensive linemen, four defensive linemen or one quarterback.
“It can be pretty anxious, but it’s all about how you handle it,” said OU fullback Jeremiah Hall of waiting for the team’s results to return. “We’re all responsible with wearing our masks every day, around each other in the locker room and everything. Most of the time, we’re not too anxious about it because we know what the results are going to be because we’re taking the right precautions for it. But yeah, it can get a little anxious here and there.”
• Doing everything right: OU true freshman Anton Harrison was the expected starter at left tackle for the Sooners’ season opener against Missouri State.
Harrison was not available for the contest (nor was his backup, Stacey Wilkins), which pushed Adrian Ealy to the left side and Erik Swenson into the lineup at right tackle.
When Harrison will make his debut is unknown, but he received a promising review from fellow offensive lineman and team captain Creed Humphrey on Tuesday.
“Anton had a great fall camp,” Humphrey said. “He was doing everything right as far as mental stuff. He wasn’t having too many breakdowns in assignment-wise areas. He has a lot of physical tools. That’s exciting to see. As long as he keeps working, he’ll be a great talent here. I’m excited to see where his future goes.”
• Not surprising: OU’s first home game had a different feel to it on Saturday with only 22,700 fans in attendance at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
Outside the 80,000-seat venue, game day festivities seemed mostly normal from students partying on their lawns to Campus Corner opening for business.
The obvious concern with too much social gathering on game day is a COVID-19 outbreak in Norman.
Humphrey, OU’s starting center, wasn’t too shocked by it all over the weekend, nor does he hold it against his classmates.
“We were kind of expecting it,” Humphrey said. “We’re in college. Kids are going to do what they want to do. It’s our job to just stay away from that and keep distance from that. We can’t try and control everybody in this university, that’s just not possible. … I’m not going to be bitter about anybody else doing what they want to do.”
OU’s next home game is against Kansas State at 11 a.m. on Sept. 26.
• Weekly honors: Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler and kicker Stephen Johnson earned Big 12 weekly awards, which were announced Monday.
Rattler was named the conference's Newcomer of the Week, throwing for 290 yards, four touchdowns and completing 14-of-17 passes. Rattler's four passing touchdowns is a first for an OU freshman quarterback in their first start.
Johnson received the Big 12's Special Teams Player of the Week award. He made both of his two field-goal attempts (42 yards and 22 yards) and connected on six extra-point tries. The senior filled in for regular starter Gabe Brkic, who was not on OU's sideline Saturday night.
Rattler and Johnson assisted OU's dominant effort in its season opener against Missouri State. The No. 3 Sooners won 48-0.
Rattler and Johnson were joined by Texas Tech linebacker Krishon Merriweather (Defensive Player of the Week) and Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger (Offensive Player of the Week) in receiving a Big 12 weekly honor.