NORMAN — The No. 6-ranked Oklahoma Sooners hit the road this week looking for revenge.
Lincoln Riley has been bested two years in a row by Chris Klieman’s Kansas State Wildcats, and the Sooners will need to break that trend to escape Manhattan 5-0.
But to emerge victorious, the Sooners will have to fix their offensive woes, as their scoring has steadily declined against FBS competition this season.
During his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Riley reiterated that the offensive problems are widespread, but that OU is close to putting things together on the field.
Riley Saw Improvement Along Offensive Line in Second Half
Oklahoma’s offensive line has taken a large chunk of the blame for the underwhelming start to the season, especially after their performance against the West Virginia Mountaineers.
OU only averaged 2.0 yards per rush against West Virginia, and surrendered four sacks, but Riley said the offensive line improved in the second half after Wanya Morris entered the game at left tackle.
“Other than two penalties down in the red zone, other than that, we played a lot better on the offensive line in the second half,” Riley said. “They gave us some opportunities in the run game.
“I think, kind of like the whole offense, they were much better in the second half. We gotta play a little bit cleaner, especially when we get down in the red zone, because now we only have four drives, and so you got to take advantage of those opportunities.”
While the Sooners have to play better up front to get the offense moving consistently, Riley also credited the Mountaineer defense line for causing so many of their problems on Saturday.
“I thought we played very well up front against Nebraska,” Riley said. “We weren't quite as clean the other night. Some of it’s things schematically we can do better. Some of it’s we're playing against the No. 4 defense in the country that's a pretty damn good on the front.
“So we were just slightly off there in the first half, but much improved in the second half. And I feel very confident that we'll build on that.”
OU Not Merely Surviving Close Battles
In their three contests against legitimate competition, the Oklahoma Sooners have eked out three one-possession victories.
But while many may say the Sooners are holding on for dear life, Riley likes to take a different approach.
“Surviving vs. go take them and win them and I feel like we’ve gone and taken them and won them,” Riley said. “It’s great to be in all these different situations. You can’t simulate those. I think some of the guts and toughness that our football team has showed early in the season is, I think, a cause for a lot of our excitement as a staff and the team’s excitement that if we can continue to improve and get to the level of play that we feel like we’re capable of, you combine that with the toughness and resiliency of being in the tough moments, typically that makes for a good football team.”
While there is plenty of frustration about the Sooners being unable to separate, Oklahoma is still 4-0, a far cry from their 1-2 start to the 2020 season.
The competitor in Riley is loving the close games so far this season, however.
“Those are fun,” he said. “Yeah, I want to play better and score more points and hold them to less points and separate from people, those are fun too, but as a competitor, if you don’t love those moments when you’re driving and you’ve got to stop them, you get the ball at your own 8-yard line, and you’ve got to go the length of the field, you’ve got to hit a game-winning field (goal), that is — The heck with what’s happened the rest of the game, that’s what you do it for.
“I love every minute of it. They’ve been fun. I’m excited and it’s been fun because out team has responded in such a positive way and I think embraced those moments and I think we’ll need to continue to do that.”
Kennedy Brooks’ Time Will Come
Eyebrows were raised when running back Kennedy Brooks only got five touches agains the Mountaineers, but Riley said his lack of touches was merely a side effect of another game with fewer possessions.
“(Eric Gray) got going a little bit and we ended up riding Eric a little bit more,” Riley said. “When you have two backs, that’s kind of the way it goes. We’ve had games through the years, again, where we’ve had two backs where one guy gets hot here, one guy kind of gets hot there, you end up staying with one.
“His opportunities will come. He’s a big part of our offense. He knows that.”
Brooks’ patient running style is something that Riley said can help the offense continue to churn forward while the offensive line continues to work on playing cleaner, but here have also been plenty of other guys who have gotten less touches merely due to the limited number of possessions against both Nebraska and West Virginia.
“We want to get the ball in all these guys’ hands,” Riley said. “He’s certainly one of them, and a guy that can absolutely steady us.”
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