Lincoln Riley wasted no time in cutting to the chase in his Tuesday press conference.
“I still have nothing new on the three suspended players," Riley said in his opening statement. "I’ll let you know when I do.”
As Oklahoma prepares to make the trek to Lubbock this Saturday, they may remarkably be without Ronnie Perkins, Rhamondre Stevenson and Trejan Bridges yet again. Fans and pundits alike expected that the three players would be reinstated from suspension by this point, but Riley has given no indication that such is the case.
Nevertheless, the Sooners can't dwell on any missing links as they ready themselves for battle at Jones AT&T Stadium. On Halloween night, and in a venue that has historically given the Sooners problems, there may be apparitions in the air.
“Excited to go down to play Texas Tech," Riley said. "You can tell Coach [Matt] Wells, his staff, players, everybody’s started to get settled in. … Very experienced defense. Literally the whole defense is seniors, just about. Just seniors all over the place.”
The Red Raiders' wealth of experience lies in stark contrast to the Sooners' youth movement, as Oklahoma has just a single senior (Tre Brown) among the starting lineup on either side of the football.
OU and Texas Tech have staged a couple of instant classics in Lubbock over the last few seasons; Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes combined for 14 total touchdowns in Oklahoma's 66-59 win in 2016, and Kyler Murray rallied the Sooners from a double-digit hole to a 51-46 squeaker in 2018.
“Road night games are as fun as it gets," Riley said. "Every time we’ve been there, too, it’s been a night game. … There’s been a lot of back and forth, and the last several years it’s been three starting NFL quarterbacks playing in those games.”
The battle with the Red Raiders is the culmination of a month-long road stand for Oklahoma, as they haven't played in the friendly confines of Owen Field since Sept. 26. Granted, the unpredictable times necessitated a nationwide scheduling scramble in college football, but Riley nonetheless seemed a little annoyed that his team has been away from home for so long.
“All we do now is play on the road, apparently, so hopefully we’re getting used to it,” he deadpanned.
The Sooners took huge strides on both offense and defense in last weekend's 33-14 win over TCU, but Riley says his team can still clean up their act a bit. Despite a reasonably productive rushing attack, Oklahoma has yet to average four yards per carry in a game this season.
But that may be subject to change this weekend, as Riley's offenses have averaged an astonishing 9.0 yards per play against Texas Tech over the teams' last five meetings.
“We had about three or four ridiculously dumb plays the other day," Riley said. "They all count, we get that, but I think the execution in the run game from the O-line and backs was much cleaner.”
If Stevenson is deemed eligible for Saturday's contest, he could provide a huge boost to the Oklahoma backfield alongside T.J. Pledger and Seth McGowan. However, the biggest X-factor among the suspended trio may be Perkins. The Oklahoma defensive line looked vastly improved against TCU, and Perkins' return would give the Sooners an absolute wrecking ball off the edge. Nevertheless, Riley says he's confident in his defensive front regardless of Perkins' status.
“I give our defensive line right now the most credit," he said. "I think we’ve hit on some guys from an evaluation standpoint and been able to develop some guys. … There’s just a lot of positive vibes there, a lot of hard work, a lot of competition. We’re not paying attention to who’s not there, we’re just going and playing at the level that we expect to play at.”
On a broad scale, it certainly helps that Riley, a Texas Tech graduate who began his coaching career in Lubbock, seems to have his alma mater's number. Since 2015, when Riley became Oklahoma's offensive coordinator, the Sooners have put up 3,415 total yards of offense against the Red Raiders. That's an average of 683 (!) yards per game.
Oh, and those absurd yardage totals have translated to plenty of points. OU hasn't scored less than 49 against Tech in the Riley era.
As the Sooners face their last road date until a Nov. 28 trip to West Virginia, Riley believes his squad is on the verge of turning a corner. Oklahoma hasn't lost a November game since 2014. Could there be a winning streak percolating?
“You see the progress each week," Riley said. "It’s definitely heading in the direction we want it to head. We can’t get there soon enough.”
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