Step it up
Lincoln Riley’s mantra this week was about everybody on team — each player in each position group — playing just a little bit better.
He’s 100 percent right, of course.
Placing Oklahoma’s pedestrian performance in two victories over Tulane and Nebraska solely at Spencer Rattler’s feet would be folly. Blaming the offensive line for all of OU’s offensive problems would be in error. Blaming the secondary for all the coverage busts — well, that one is probably solely on the secondary.
Imagine a world where the offensive line cleans things up and the ground game comes together and the passing game opens up. That’s a 40-point performance for the offense. And a world in which the defensive backs cover just a little longer, a little tighter, and the pass rush gets home. That’s a rough day for the WVU offense.
“We don’t need anybody to be a lot better,” Riley said, “we just everybody to be a little better.”
Throw it deep
Having said all that, it’s clear that Rattler needs to be better.
Whether he’s distracted by NIL money, lacking in natural leadership skills or just simply not at the standard of Riley’s other recent OU quarterbacks, Rattler should still have opportunities to maximize the impressive abilities he showed throughout the second half of the 2020 season.
That means throwing the ball deep.
Rattler is averaging 10.3 yards per completion, which ranks 87th in the nation. Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts were all around 15 or more. It’s the very basis of what has made Riley’s offense so special.
When he was in high school, a video surfaced of Rattler throwing the football 74 yards. His arm strength and snap release produce a rotation, velocity and potential distance greater than most NFL quarterbacks — but he’s not used those gifts this season, instead choosing to check down to underneath receivers. When he does throw it deep, he has often thrown off his back foot, fading away instead of stepping into it, trying a touch pass instead of confidently delivering a bullet.
Defensive backs love those.
Rattler needs to find his confidence. He needs to trust his blockers. And he needs to give his receivers a chance to shine.
The Sooners will miss Jalen Redmond on the defensive line. He’s one of the team’s most effective defenders up front, but he’s down for at least a few weeks with a knee injury.
That’s good news for WVU quarterback Jarret Doege.
So is the fact that cornerback Woodi Washington is out indefinitely with an undisclosed injury.
OU is equipped with talented players at both positions who can certainly step up.
But if they don’t — if Doege has more time to get comfortable in the pocket and if he is able to find open receivers — this game will go down to the wire.
Players like Josh Ellison, Kori Roberson, Jordan Kelley and LaRon Stokes must take up Redmond’s slack, and players like Jaden Davis and Latrell McCutchin need to absorb some of Washington’s snaps.
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