NORMAN — The tension was palpable as Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley fielded questions from the local media on Tuesday.
Riley’s No. 4-ranked Sooners are the first squad at Oklahoma to go 8-0 since 2004, yet an embarrassing 35-23 win over the hapless Kansas Jayhawks this past Saturday loomed over the proceedings.
Now, the Sooners will try to rebound with a convincing win against Texas Tech on Saturday before Oklahoma heads into the bye week, as they’ll host a Red Raiders team who has had a tumultuous week of their own.
Matt Wells was relieved as the head coach in Lubbock on Monday, and offensive coordinator and former Riley colleague Sunny Cumbi will lead the Red Raiders on the sideline this weekend.
Vets Need to Show Out
Earlier this season, defensive coordinator Alex Grinch declared that his returning starters needed to improve so that they were basically different players in 2021.
It’s safe to say that hasn’t happened yet.
Amidst defensive struggles for the fourth straight week, Riley said he needed to see his most experienced players leading the charge on the field.
“It's a point that we've we've talked quite a bit about this week,” Riley said on Tuesday. “I mean, rarely will you ever find the team where your veteran guys and their quote unquote best players — if you're a good team, typically those guys are playing the best ball of their lives. And we need that.”
When asked, Riley acknowledged that nose guard Perrion Winfrey was one of those guys, but it’s safe to say that the defensive pass rush as a whole needs to step up down the stretch.
Entering the year, Winfrey, Isaiah Thomas and Nik Bonitto were all named to the All-Big 12 First Team, yet those three have combined to log just one sack over their last eight quarters of football.
Riley said he has faith in those guys, especially Winfrey, to answer the call and lead the team in November.
“Has he played awful? No. He's had some really good moments this year,” Riley said. “… We need those guys to be elite. And so knowing him, he's always -- I give the kid credit. Anytime that we've challenged him, he's always been up for it and I'll expect that he will be for this one as well.”
Williams Must Settle in Early
Caleb Williams made his first major mistake on Saturday against the Jayhawks.
On the second offensive possession of the game for the Sooners, Williams hung a 50-50 ball up for Jadon Haselwood, and a Jayhawk defender was able to bring the ball down.
Riley said that he has to do a better job of coaching the quarterbacks to ensure they’re not pressing for the big play when they have better options available to them.
“We can’t let the emotions of game or wanting to make a big play for the team supersede going through your reads and getting the ball where it needs to go,” Riley said. “It’s something he and I can do a better job with.”
It can be difficult at times to balance Williams’ playmaking ability with taking what the defense gives him, but it’s a balance he’ll grow into as he starts more games for the Sooners.
“It hasn’t been awful,” said Riley, “but needs to be better.”
Wild Wild West
Sophomore wide receiver Trevon West ignited the Oklahoma offense with a 66-yard scamper on a reverse against the Jayhawks, a somewhat unlikely outcome considering the past year he’s had.
West entered the transfer portal this past February, but Riley said he was happy West decided to return back to the program this summer.
“Went through some things, personally, last year throughout the season — as did a lot of people with all that was going on. Made the decisions to leave to program,” Riley said. “… We knew had a chance to be a really good player and get a college education. Felt like he fit in here and loved having him around. It was a shock to us when he left.”
Since returning, West has worked his way back up the depth chart, and has come up clutch for the Sooners on third downs, and he finally popped his big play in Lawrence.
“I think he’s grown up a lot and he’s really more settled in all areas of his life,” Riley said. “He’s a great kid and his teammates love him. Seeing him make the big play and our sideline erupted. Watching it in the team meeting on Monday, you can tell the guys have a respect for him.
“It’s not easy to come back. A lot of guys wouldn’t have done that just to save face or perception or whatever. He’s come back.”
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