Lincoln Riley didn’t switch quarterbacks on a whim. He didn’t bench Spencer Rattler in favor of Caleb Williams to play favorites. He’s didn’t make the monumental change last week against Texas because he’s building for the future.
Williams, the wunderkind freshman QB from Washington, DC, is OU’s new starter because, frankly, he gives Oklahoma the best chance to win right now. This year.
A week after roasting the Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl and winning the Big 12’s Newcomer of the Week Award, Williams should make his first career Saturday night as the No. 4-ranked Sooners return home to face TCU.
That No. 4 ranking? It’s huge. When the College Football Playoff rankings debut early next month, Riley hopes to have OU at 9-0 and coming off a much-needed open date. Win the Big 12 again — possibly with an undefeated record — and it’s back to the four-team playoff.
Only this time, Riley believes he’s got the goods to win a game — a capable defense to go with his explosive offense (and a major league kicker) that can get him to the national title game and maybe win one for the first time in a generation.
The hangup, at least through much of the first six games, was that the offense just hasn’t been all that explosive.
Some of that is on Rattler, to be sure. As the next QB in Riley’s system, he’s expected to make plays on the level of Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts. Sorry, that’s just the way it is for Oklahoma quarterbacks. Anyone who doesn’t want that much of a burden or that much pressure should probably not sign with the Sooners.
But Rattler hasn’t been bad. He’s completing 74 percent of his passes. He’s made a handful of questionable decisions that led to a handful of turnovers. He’s been too eager to leave the pocket on one of his awkward runs. He has taken too many easy check-downs.
But Rattler has been gun-shy since his second throw of the season was intercepted against Tulane. He doesn’t trust his blocking (many times with good reason), and he’s not built any kind of rapport yet with his receivers. And with only two running backs on scholarship, the Sooners’ run game has been anemic at times.
That’s where Williams comes in — and why Riley made the switch.
Williams’ ability to scramble and churn out big yards on the ground can hide some of the deficiencies of the offensive line. He’s also bold enough (Confident? Brash? Cocky?) that he’s apparently not dependent on building chemistry with the receiver corps. Marvin Mims is the Sooners’ best receiver, right? So Williams is determined to throw Mims the ball no matter if he’s covered or even looking for it. He proved that last week in Dallas.
The return of Marcus Major to academic eligibility helps, too, because now with a third scholarship running back, Riley doesn’t need to call plays on pins and needles. He can throw caution to the wind and give the football to Kennedy Brooks in bulk.
That combination of Williams and Brooks is how the Sooners beat Texas last week, and it’s how they’ll navigate the rest of their schedule unbeaten, starting with TCU on Saturday.
Riley knows Caleb Williams and his unique skill set — Hurts’ legs, Murray’s arm, Mayfield’s confidence — give OU their best chance to compete for a national title in 2021.
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