Lincoln Riley has been as an assistant coach at Texas Tech. He’s been an aide at East Carolina. And while losing football games at those outposts comes with its own level of misery, there’s something different about losing when it happens as head coach at Oklahoma.
“The losses, they all suck,” he said. “They all hurt like hell. … Hadn’t been a whole lot of sleep this week.”
That’s life for the Sooners’ head coach after a stunning 38-35 home loss to four-touchdown underdog Kansas State. OU blew a 21-point, late-third quarter lead, and was largely lifeless in the fourth quarter.
But there are no open dates coming up during which Riley can ponder life’s problems. As it stands now, No. 18-ranked Oklahoma has a trip to Iowa State looming in five days.
“You just really kind of test your insides to go fight back,” Riley said Tuesday during his weekly news conference. “Despite the disappointment, I have zero doubt in what we can be. And that we've just got to work harder, do better to get there and that we will get there. It's a great challenge. All losses are.”
His players feel much the same. They spent Saturday night and part of Sunday commiserating about the sting of defeat. But there were too many elements from the last 22 minutes of Saturday’s game that need their immediate attention to whine about their feelings.
“Coach Riley is definitely right,” said offensive tackle Adrian Ealy. “It’s hard. It’s hard. You never want to take a loss, especially (at) this program. We’re not used to losing. We’re always used to winning. Saturday definitely was tough. After the game, I watched the film. It was hard watching it.
“As an individual, I had to look myself in the mirror and see what I could do to make this team better,” Ealy said. “And that goes for everybody on this team. Everybody that's a part of OU football, we all had to look ourselves in the mirror and see what's best for us to move forward.”
“Like coach Riley said, it’s tough,” H-back Jeremiah Hall said on Tuesday. “It’s tough because you look at the guy sitting next to you, you look at those that are more distraught than others, and you’re just like, ‘Man, we didn’t get the job done.’ “
“Definitely,” said running back T.J. Pledger, “because we work so hard every day and we always see a big end goal for us because this is Oklahoma football. We have high expectations for ourselves, so under certain circumstances, we try our best to go through, understand what went wrong and continue to move forward, understanding that it’s a long season ahead and we continue to fight, continue to push. We know what the end result can be.”
Hall said he’s not one to express his emotions much, though he was pretty demonstrative after making an acrobat and strong touchdown catch. Still, he said, “it hurts. Whether you did your job or didn’t do your job, you always think to yourself, ‘Man, maybe I could have done a little bit more; maybe I could have did this, maybe I could have did that.’ But at the end of the day, we didn’t do our job. We didn’t get the job done. And you’ve got to take it to the chin.”
That means standing up and moving on from the loss — easier said than done, to be sure, but a necessary element to ensuring that one defeat doesn’t spiral into two, or three, or more.
“This is college football,” Hall said. “That was only Week 2. We’ve got a long season ahead.”
“I feel like if I dwell on the games, talk about the game every day about how I can't believe we lost — that's not showing a great example for the young guys,” Ealy said. “For experienced guys, it’s on us to show the way, show the example for these young guys by saying, 'Yeah, we lost, it does suck, but we can’t dwell on it. We got to move on and keep being better as the year goes on.’ ”
Iowa State won’t be sending the Sooners any sympathy cards this week. There will be no burnt orange floral arrangements when Oklahoma arrives in Dallas on Oct. 10. The nature of playing at OU is that you get every team’s best shot every week. You’re often their Super Bowl.
There’s a reason Oklahoma owns seven national championships and seven Heisman Trophies and more conference championships — 49 — than any other program.
“That’s one thing about OU, man: that’s the standard here,” Riley said. “The standard’s great. It takes you to great heights. But also, when you have a down one, you can’t let it beat you up. You’ve got to be able to get back up and fight and get right back on track and play the way you should be, and that’s that's going to be our challenge.
“And in that way, I don’t know that it feels any different than any of the losses that we’ve had. We haven’t had to experience it very much, but the couple that we have had, I would say it doesn’t feel that much different from.”
“All we can do,” Ealy said, “is come in Monday, we review the tape, we correct the things that need to be corrected and we approach the next week. We can’t think about last week no more. Now we’ve got to focus on a good team that we’re about to play this week in Iowa State and be ready to play.”
To get the latest OU posts as they happen, join the SI Sooners Community by clicking “Follow” at the top right corner of the page (mobile users can click the notifications bell icon), and follow SI Sooners on Twitter @All_Sooners.