NORMAN — It’s far from pretty, but Oklahoma survived.
Gabe Brkic’s 29-yard field goal as time expired game the No. 4-ranked Sooners a 16-13 victory over the West Virginia Mountaineers on Saturday night, keeping OU undefeated on the year, but the Sooners are far from perfect.
Through four games, the offense is the worst Lincoln Riley has ever fielded at Oklahoma. The offensive line play has been terrible, and as a result the Sooners struggle to run the football and can’t protect quarterback Spencer Rattler who has had a shaky start to the season himself.
But still, OU is 4-0, and they’ve found ways to win three one-possession ballgames this season, a stark contrast from their 1-2 start to the season in 2020.
Prepared to Finish
Oklahoma prepared all offseason to be able to finish out close games.
Safety Pat Fields said that creating adversity and finding situations at practice to force the team to dig deep when they’re already exhausted has been a focal point since the offseason began in January.
“Coach Riley, Coach Grinch and Coach Wylie, they’ve all just created scenarios to create adversity for us where we had to finish,” Fields said after the game. “Say we’re running 20 100’s one day, he may surprise us and we’re running 21 or 22 just to challenge us. Like are we — and that’s equated to the fourth quarter, right. The clock hits zero, what if you have to play overtime? What if you have to play two overtimes? What if you have to play three overtimes?”
As a result, OU has had three impressive showings on decisive drives already this season.
Against Tulane and Nebraska, the defense came out and got after the quarterback to quell hopes of a game-winning rally. And then on Saturday night, it was the offense’s turn.
Rattler led his team on a 14 play, 80-yard drive to set up the game winning field goal despite the offense never really finding a rhythm all night long.
“We pride ourselves in finishing games, finishing plays and finishing every rep,” defensive lineman Perrion Winfrey said after the game. “So, to be able to go out there every play and give it our all and be able to hold teams to the amount of points we are holding teams compared to what it was before I committed to the university is a blessing.”
Defense Focusing on Next Play to Dominate
West Virginia opened the game by driving 75 yards and cashing in for a touchdown, putting together a successful 17-play drive.
After that, the OU defense only yielded a pair of field goals, and shut down the Mountaineer run game.
Instead of getting too high or too low, Isaiah Thomas said the defense has instilled a “next play” mentality, preventing them from getting wrapped up in the emotions of the game so that the defense can continue to do their jobs at a high level across four quarters.
“Coach Grinch tells us to have a short memory and I mean with the way we finished the game you could tell that we had one,” Thomas said after the game. “I personally do well now with a next play mentality because I mean in that Nebraska game I had a few played that I missed out there but I mean I was still disruptive and causing havoc in the backfield.
“So you know, it’s something that trickles down. If they see an older guy have that mentality, the younger guys will be like if it works for him it can work for all of us. And we just instilled that as a team.”
More than just a group of talented pass rushers, Winfrey said the D-line is using the next play creed to impose their will in the run game as well.
“Dominance. That’s our mentality,” Winfrey said. “They can bust for a 70-yard run. We’re going to have that next rep mentality knowing that we can get that run total down and down and down. And we’re not going to stop until the end of the game.
“We’re going to make every opponent feel us. We’re going to put pad on pad and make you not want to run the ball, make you not want to run any plays. That’s our mentality up front.”
Oklahoma has needed every ounce of production up front on defense, as Grinch’s side of the ball has carried OU so far this season.
Offense Hoping to Build on Late Success
Despite getting boo’d off their home field on multiple occasions, the OU offense hopes to build off their game winning drive as they hit the road to face Kansas State next week.
“It was a great opportunity for us to fight through something again and come out with a win,” Rattler said of the offense’s performance on the decisive drive. “We’re happy to be 4-0. We’re not satisfied with the way we’re winning, but a win is a win. Personally, I thought that last drive showed maturity. Last year, a lot of things could have happened during that drive and that situation. This year, we’ve had a couple of drives like that and converted them to win a game.”
Rattler came alive in the fourth, completing 11-of-12 passes to close the game, and manufacturing a pair of drives resulting in field goals.
Offensive lineman Tyrese Robinson said the improvement late in the game boiled down to one thing — focus.
“We didn’t really do anything different,” Robinson said after the game. “I feel like more people were locked in. We were locked in. I was more locked in that drive which led us to make those plays down the field. It was quick passes, and the O-line did a good job of protecting and the receivers did a good job of catching the ball and making plays.”
Wide receiver Mike Woods said he’s confident that the offense will be able to build on their late-game success against West Virginia moving forward.
“We’re gonna watch film on it and see what we did right, see what we did wrong and build on the things we did right and correct the things we did wrong,” Woods said. “And that’s ultimately how we improve. We just want to keep improving as the season goes on. The great teams do that.”
Unfortunately for the Sooners, the road ahead doesn’t get any easier.
Now, Oklahoma will travel to Manhattan, KS, for their first road test of the season as they look to break a two-game losing streak to the Kansas State Wildcats.
“We are very close,” Rattler said. “It will come together but I think these situations are going to help us in the long run, which is positive. It might not seem positive right now, but it’ll help us in the long run.
“Last year we were sitting 1-2 and 2-2 and now we’re 4-0. We’re going to keep rolling and we’re going to keep trying to win games no matter what we have to do.”
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