NORMAN- Oklahoma-Nebraska week is finally here.
On Tuesday, OU head coach Lincoln Riley said he and the coaches have taken some time with the team to educate them on the history of the rivalry, but under the strict time constraints of college football the focus still has to be preforming well on Saturday.
Coming off a complete four quarter domination of FCS foe Western Carolina, Riley said he was pleased with how his team responded, but he still acknowledged there is plenty to improve on as Oklahoma heads into Week 3.
Continuing to play with high energy for four quarters, the improvement of Kennedy Brooks and how the offensive line rotation will continue to shape up during the season.
The Sooners appeared locked in for all four quarters on Saturday against the Western Carolina Catamounts, but playing with a consistent level of focus for four quarters is a battle that must be fought in every game with every team across the country.
“We’ll keep harping on it,” Riley said during his weekly press conference on Tuesday. “That’ll be a weekly thing for us.
“We’ve got to keep our mindset the same. The reality is there’s a lot of plays in that game the other day that we didn’t do very well that we were successful on because we had better players.”
Riley went on to add that part of maintaining that focus throughout the week is continuing to identify what the players and coaches both did poorly even in lopsided games and honing in to improve on those smaller details.
As players have changed over the years, Riley did say the coaching staff has had to adjust their tactics and strategies for keeping players locked in.
“It’s always a challenge,” he said. “You’ve got to do a good job of it as a staff, and I think that’s where you rely on your leadership.
“At the end of the day, whether it’s focus, mentality, holding attention, whatever it is, if it’s only coming from the staff then they’re just going to get it every so often. The most powerful (message) comes from the staff and the team as well, from the leadership on the team… That’s what we’re striving for and I think we’ve got a group that’s starting to do that more and more.”
Brooks Rounding Into Shape
Amazingly, running back Kennedy Brooks appears to have not missed a step despite opting out of the 2020 season for medical reasons.
In two games back for the Sooners, Brooks has rushed for 135 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 6.8 yards per carry.
Brooks’ performances have even surprised his head coach through two games back on the field.
“It’s honestly pretty impressive what he’s done just watching him,” Riley said. “With that much time off away from the game, away from the practice field and all that, it’s been good to see him get back in the flow.”
Still, there is plenty of room for improvement to recapture his best form, Riley said.
“I thought he was better the other night than he was in the first one,” Riley said. “He’ll continue to improve as he gets carries going forward. The thing I see with him is I think he’s a little more explosive, a little faster, a little stronger.
“I think that’s at an all-time high for him. I’ve seen the guy carry the ball so much I can notice some subtle things physically that he’s doing that are better than in the past right now.”
Offensive Line Ever-Evolving
Though the starting offensive line remained unchanged against the Catamounts, there was a new player added to the fold in the first half.
Tennessee transfer Wanya Morris saw his first action as a Sooner, rotating in at left tackle in the first half before seeing some work at right tackle against Western Carolina after the half.
“I thought Wanya came in and played pretty well for his first action,” Riley said. “I think he’s handled it pretty well, is starting to get more settled in with our mentality and our scheme.”
Riley went on to add that learning the offense and preparing at practice is a different level of difficulty than actually implementing it into a game, an adjustment that fellow Tennessee transfer Eric Gray has also had to make.
“He’s improved,” Riley said. “Knowing it when you draw it up on the board is one thing. Going out in a game full speed and trusting it and executing at a high level is two different things.”
As the season progresses, Riley said he can see the offense continuing to work multiple guys into the offensive line as they find their best unit.
“I think we’re going to continue to have battles as this thing goes out,” Riley said. “I feel like we’ve got six, seven, maybe even eight quality starting offensive linemen. We’re going to continue to try to find the best group as we go through. Don’t know if we’ve decided yet how much rotation there will be, but there are still going to be internal battles.”
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