Entering the 2021 college football season, no player was under a more intense spotlight with more pressure cast upon them than Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler.
Expectations were as high as they get, with Rattler being the Heisman favorite and presumptive No. 1 pick in next April’s NFL Draft.
With the bar so astronomically high, any inkling of a letdown early in the year was bound to be met with harsh criticism. So, with the sluggish start for the Sooners’ offense over the first three weeks of the season, the Oklahoma signal-caller has been taken to task by fans and media alike all over the country.
This is something Rattler is certainly aware of, but refuses to let affect his preparation and way he approaches the game.
“Yeah these people really don’t know anything they’re talking about,” Rattler said this week when asked about the heavy criticism tossed his way early this season. “They (opposing defenses) know what type of schemes we run. But it really just comes down to playing ball, man, and being cleaner. Like I said, taking away three throws a game and it’ll make our offense a lot better. I put that on myself. Obviously I haven’t been playing to the ability or standard that I would want to. But I gotta keep pushing. I gotta keep getting better.
“But the criticism, y’know, it don’t mean anything to me.”
As Rattler has acknowledged several times in the young 2021 campaign, he hasn’t performed at the level he would have liked to through three games.
To this point, the 2021 iteration of the Sooners offense is performing at a level far below the normal Lincoln Riley standards.
Fair or not, a lot of that is bound to fall on the redshirt sophomore quarterback’s shoulders as the face of the program despite it being far from just him that needs to improve.
A large point of emphasis has been the lack of a deep passing game, with Oklahoma’s current yards-per-attempt sitting well below previous Sooner teams.
So what is exactly the problem? Rattler says a lot of it lies with how the Sooners are being defended, and his own refusal to force anything deep that isn’t there.
“These teams know what we like to do,” Rattler said. “We have guys who can get down the field. But a lot of people don’t understand. They’re quick to say this and that, but a lot of people don’t understand what defenses are trying to do versus us. They like to take away the deep shots so we can stay underneath, and they can rally to the ball. We can put ourselves in situations with the game plan and the type of schemes we go out there with.
“We have a great game plan this week. Keep practicing it, sharpen it up in our walk-through tomorrow. Just go in and try to execute every play Saturday and make it easier. Check it down to the guys, get it into my guys’ hands. Be cleaner on a couple small things we need to tweak up, and we’ll be good to go.”
Naturally, many fans will point to Rattler’s various NIL endeavors as a possible distraction and reason for Oklahoma’s slow offensive start — something that has been met with quick dismissal by both Rattler and Riley.
“Yeah, no, there isn’t any distractions,” Rattler said. “Just straight football. That’s my focus.”
“Our guys for the most part have handled it (NIL) well,” Riley said. “I’m not aware of any distraction that’s come up or something that I’ve had to address up to this point. I’m not saying it won’t happen, but I don’t think NIL has had any impact on our season up to this point, which is where we want it.”
Perhaps the single-biggest theme of Rattler’s comments throughout the first month of the season is an insistence that Oklahoma continues to just take what defenses give them. It may not be exciting and lead to critiques of a bland offense, but is the smart play in the mind of the Arizona native.
“Everybody wants to go deep, but that’s not the game all the time,” Rattler said. “Football – they can do things to take away certain things. That’s what these teams have been doing. We just have to execute versus what we’re playing and keep coming out with these wins. That‘s the biggest thing. All that other stuff, we can put up 80 points in a game or 25, but that’s football, and that’s what everybody has to understand.
“I think we’ll see a big difference when we get out there on Saturday. Make them respect both sides of the game. It’s gonna be fun, it’s gonna be fun. We’ve just got to take what they give us. That’s it.”
The scrutiny isn’t going to go away any time soon, and that is something Rattler is more than prepared to handle.
From his high school days to now, the spotlight has always been on him and he knows how to push onward through the noise.
Rattler knows the first few games haven’t been what they needed to be, but he also knows he will improve and has vowed that things will turn upward in the games ahead.
“I just have to play up to my standard, up to my game,” Rattler said. “These first three games haven’t been the games we’ve all wanted to have. I haven’t played some of my best yet, but it’s coming. That’s really it. We have to play better. I have to play better. We’ll be good.”
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