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Despite low COVID-19 numbers, Lincoln Riley says "we’re not close to a full two-deep"

Oklahoma Sooners head coach says his team is still struggling with effects of positive tests and contact tracing

To the casual observer, it would seem that the Oklahoma Sooners are much closer to full strength than many teams across the country.

However, as head coach Lincoln Riley told media in a Tuesday press conference, that's not necessarily the case. 

"Yeah, no, we’re not close to a full two-deep and haven’t been close to it at any point this year," Riley said. "I think we’re doing a pretty good job handling the COVID situation right now. A lot of guys getting some opportunities maybe earlier than we expected, or maybe even than they expected. So we’re growing with that. But listen, that’s this year. You’ve got to play with the guys you got. And you gotta get the guys that you have ready."

The Sooners started off the year with a 48-0 shutout of Missouri State, a game in which no less than 20 players were inactive due to COVID-19 concerns. However, the Sooners had just three inactives among the two-deep depth chart against Kansas State, and two against Iowa State. The Sooners reported just one new case among nearly 700 tests in this week's round of testing data. And while those statistics would indicate that the program is trending in a healthy direction, the unpredictable nature of the virus doesn't mean that stability will continue.

"There’s just a lot more to it than there’s ever been," Riley acknowledged. "And no question, this season has brought about some different challenges that, by now, I feel like we’ve adapted to. But you don’t ever really feel like you have this thing beat. I mean, you can go have six weeks worth of negative tests, everything going great, and then one test, one exposure could be almost like a grenade going off within the program."

It's affected more than just the available personnel for Oklahoma, as some players miss weeks of practice due to virus protocol. With less time and reps with which to get up to game speed, those players aren't fully ready for action.

"There’s honestly a number of guys at a number of positions that you hoped would be able to help you by now, and I think in a normal year would be helping us by now," Riley said. "Some of those guys, like you said, knocked out with COVID for 10, 14, 28 days, and that, combined with the offseason being a little different and those guys that were here in the spring missing all of spring ball, I mean, there’s just — the development of those guys has been different."

However, Riley and his staff refuse to accept the circumstances as an excuse for inconsistency. Especially heading into a bitter rivalry game in the Red River Showdown, the Sooners need all available hands on deck. Both Oklahoma and Texas are coming off losses, and their date at the Cotton Bowl this weekend will serve as a crucial test of each team's resilience.

"Very simply, these are the guys you have, these are the guys you get ready, and you go out and you fight like hell and go play to win," said Riley. "That’s what we’ve got to do, that’s what we’re gonna continue to do, and we’re gonna continue to fight like crazy and do that."

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