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Lincoln Log: Oklahoma on the Mend, Confident in Defense Ahead of KU

Lincoln Riley said he's still confident in OU's defense despite a lackluster past three weeks from that side of the football.

NORMAN — Fresh off a victory over the TCU Horned Frogs, the Oklahoma Sooners are looking to do something that hasn’t been accomplished in Norman in over 15 years.

A victory against the Kansas Jayhawks will see the No. 3-ranked Sooners move to 8-0 for the first time since 2004.

And while the Sooners are still unbeaten, OU appears to be moving in opposite directions on both sides of the ball.

Their revamped defense has sprung a few leaks over the past couple of weeks, while a quarterback change has sparked back-to-back 50-point scoring outputs.

Thankfully for the OU defense, the Sooners enter the softer portion of their schedule with back-to-back contests against Kansas and Texas Tech offering a chance to get some key contributors back before their bye week.

On the Mend

By the end of Saturday’s game against TCU, the OU defense was missing starting contributors in Delarrin Turner-Yell, Woodi Washington, Jeremiah Criddell, D.J. Graham and Jalen Redmond.

And while OU head coach Lincoln Riley again said a number of those players were getting close to potentially returning this Saturday, he did mention that the team is doing what it can to manage the physical load throughout the week.

“We gave our guys a little down time yesterday with meetings,” Riley said during his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “Didn’t get on the field with this being our eighth straight, which is not that normal. Some things that we’ve done normally during the season especially in long stretches like that, to try to reduce a little of our time on the field.

“That makes our practice today and the ones the rest of the week very important.”

It should be noted that coaches this season, especially defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, have been critical of the effort level in practice at times this season, but none of that should really matter on Saturday as the Jayhawks will be completely and totally outmatched.

While the defense tries to get healthy, the next few weeks will continue to provide great opportunities for the younger members of the defense to step up and get reps in practice that normally may not be there for true freshman at this point in the season.

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Rattler Ready to Go

It’s never easy to lose a starting job, much less in as public a way as Spencer Rattler lost the starting quarterback spot for the Sooners.

But Riley said there is no hesitation on his end about inserting Rattler into the game if OU needs him, whether it be in the heat of an undecided game or if the Sooners have the contest well in hand late in the second half.

“(Rattler) wants to play,” Riley said. “He’s preparing like he wants to play. And so if he gets an opportunity to play, I’m going to play him. No matter what the capacity is, no matter what the game situation is, no matter what the scenario it is for him going in.”

Rattler’s teammates have praised his attitude since Caleb Williams took over as the starter, and Riley said he’s still attacking practice with the right kind of mentality and approach.

“In this game you can’t always define when that opportunity is going to be,” Riley said. “You can’t predict it. But if you’re just constantly getting ready for the next one, then when it does show up you’ll be ready.

“I mean, I wouldn’t want to hold myself to anything but if I get a chance to play him and he’s preparing like he’s going to play and he keeps preparing like that, then if I get a chance to play him, I’m going to play him.”

OU Needs More From Defensive Front

The TCU Horned Frogs actually outgunned the Sooners on Saturday, posting 529 total yards to OU’s 524.

And while a lot of that damage came through the air, to the tune of 346 passing yards, Riley didn’t place all the blame at the feet of a young secondary ravaged by injuries.

“Going back and watching this tape against TCU — we played better in the secondary than we played on the defensive front,” Riley said. “… The big thing for us defensively is we've got to play with all three units. We did that pretty well early, but we haven't done that as well as of late consistently. We've certainly had our moments. But the biggest issue the other night is a lack of impact by the defensive front and tackling.”

Still, Riley said he doesn’t see the need for major defensive overhauls.

“This is a little different tone in here than it was after West Virginia when all you guys were wondering how we were gonna score a point,” Riley said with a wry smile on Tuesday. “It’s just some of the ebbs and flows of it. I still look at it defensively, we’ve still had a lot of really good moments. We didn’t play good in the first half against Texas. We were hit and miss the other night against TCU.

“We’re not far off, though. Kinda like I told you offensively, when we’re good defensively, we’re good. When we’re off, it’s probably a lot closer than maybe what people would believe… We need every group to be just a little bit better. If we do, that’ll push us over the edge and we’ll play like we’re capable of and more consistently.”