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As Caleb Williams Emerges at Oklahoma, Lincoln Riley Says He Still Trusts Spencer Rattler

The Sooners' dynamic freshman certainly appears to have wrested the starting job from last year's All-Big 12 quarterback with his heroics Saturday against Texas.
Caleb Williams

Caleb Williams

DALLAS — Caleb Williams raised his arms as he walked with his team into the Cotton Bowl.

He raised his arms again as he left the Cotton Bowl.

In between, he became an Oklahoma football legend.

How long that legend continues, who can say? Not Lincoln Riley, who declined to name a starting quarterback after Williams’ almost supernatural performance lifted the Sooners to an almost inconceivable 55-48 victory over hated rival Texas on Saturday.

It’s easy to think OU has a full-blown quarterback controversy.

But not really. Caleb Williams won the job—and did so only minutes after Spencer Rattler lost it.

Spencer Rattler

Spencer Rattler

“I’ll tell you what,” Riley said, “I know you guys are going to go write a bunch of stuff. Do what you do. That's your job. That's not my job.”

Riley said it wasn’t an easy decision to pull Rattler.

“Because, I mean, Spencer was seeing some things that we missed early that weren't on him,” Riley said.

For the second consecutive Red River Rivalry game, Rattler had two turnovers in the first half and found himself on the sideline next to his coach.

“You can't turn the ball over and win this game,” Riley said. “I mean, it's very, very difficult to do.”

Rattler’s interception was the product of a miscommunication between him and tight end Austin Stogner. His fumble came from trying to do too much.

Last year, it was backup Tanner Mordecai who came in and righted the ship and gave Rattler a new perspective from the bench, a perspective that allowed him to return in the second half and turn himself into a Red River hero.

Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams

Lincoln Riley and Caleb Williams

This time, however, it was the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit in the class of 2021 who replaced Rattler. And from the first play, it was clear that he wouldn’t be giving the job back.

Caleb Williams didn’t come to Norman to hold anyone’s place in line.

His first snap, Williams took 66 yards for a touchdown, even throwing in a few broken tackles and a punishing stiff-arm. That gave him the Sooners’ three longest plays of the year to that point: a 66-yard run, a 59-yard run, and a 57-yard pass (both against Western Carolina).

“It was a tremendous play, but that wasn't a factor in keeping him in,” Riley said. “I just thought when he came in, he managed it pretty well.”

Rattler came back and directed a field goal drive to make it 28-17, but then fumbled away his second turnover of the day. Rattler got seven possessions before a fumble that led to another Texas TD and a 35-17 Longhorn lead.

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Spencer Rattler and Caleb Williams

Spencer Rattler and Caleb Williams

After the fumble, Williams and the OU offense spent the rest of the day playing catch-up. But Riley was patient and measured with him—until the Sooners needed it the most.

OU began the fourth quarter down 41-30, and Williams proceeded to hit 10-of-14 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown down the stretch.

Williams fired a dart to Marvin Mims for a 14-yard touchdown that cut it to 41-30 late in the fourth quarter, then quickly put together a nine-play, 71-yard drive that ended with another Brkic field goal (his fourth) and a five-play, 60-yard drive that ended with a 52-yard bomb to Mims that looked like something out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame video archives.

“When we were scoring, we were moving it,” Riley said, “so I stayed with it.”

The second TD cut it to 41-39 with 7:25 to play, and Riley sent in Rattler for the tying 2-point conversion attempt, which he threw to Drake Stoops to tie it at 41.

“I really was expecting to put him back in,” Riley said. “I didn't know it would come on maybe the single most important play of the game. But he handled it like a pro.”

Riley said Rattler’s two-point conversion showed a side of him that he deeply respects.

Caleb Williams

Caleb Williams

“The guts he had to do to go in there and perform for his team,” Riley said, “a guy that would ‘sulk’ and ‘not a team guy,’ ‘not into it,’ ‘not still wanting to win’ no matter what happened for him personally. That's him. And that's why he was ready to go execute the most important part of the game.”

Texas fumbled the kickoff, and Kennedy Brooks took it 18 yards to give the Sooners a 48-41 lead. But after the Longhorns drove for the tying touchdown, Williams had 1 minute, 23 seconds to get the Sooners in range for another walk-off field goal from Brkic.

Instead, OU got a touchdown.

Williams opened the drive with a 9-yard completion to Jadon Haselwood, then on third-and-1, Brooks gashed the ‘Horns for a 12-yard gain. Williams then fired a quick out to Mims on one side for 10 yards, then delivered a quick throw to Austin Stogner on the other side for 11.

Spencer Rattler

Spencer Rattler

After an OU timeout, Riley was setting up for a 50-yard game-winner by Brkic, but Brooks ended it with his 33-yard TD run with three seconds to play.

Williams finished the day 16-of-25 passing for 212 yards and threw two touchdowns. He also ran for 88 yards on just four carries.

That’s the other element of Williams taking the job from Rattler: his ability as a runner suddenly opened up an OU run game that has labored over the first half of the season. In the second half, Brooks carried 13 times for 155 yards and two TDs—an element that this offense has simply lacked before Saturday.

Riley even said he thought about turning the final drive over to Rattler.

“I thought Spencer was still razor-locked in,” Riley said. “He's pretty unflappable, man.”

Riley said he’s going to lean on both Rattler and Williams for the next six games. He has to. Both guys have shown him something over the first six games, and he knows a 6-0 Oklahoma team still has a path to the College Football Playoff.

“I’m proud of their insides,” Riley said. “I’m proud of their guts, their commitment to this team—despite whatever people are going to write on the outside, man, those are two dudes who just want to win and they want to win till the final whistle, and we needed them both to do it.”

Caleb Williams - Texas pregame