The Caleb Williams Era Has Begun: What Now for Oklahoma?

Williams changes the dynamic of the OU offense, fixing what was wrong and adding other elements to what Lincoln Riley can call.
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They don’t make freshman quarterbacks like they used to.

This weekend’s stunning performance by Oklahoma’s Caleb Williams was enough to build an historic rally and take down Texas. No one who saw it will forget OU’s 55-48 comeback victory on Saturday at the Cotton Bowl.

Equally indelible was Williams’ ability to dynamite the Longhorns’ defense with one haymaker after another.

But what now?

Caleb Williams runs for a touchdown

Caleb Williams runs for a touchdown

First up, of course, this week’s game against TCU. The Sooners return home to face the Horned Frogs on Saturday night at 6:30 p.m., and Williams has certainly never faced a Gary Patterson defense. Williams will have a full schedule this week.

Long-term, Sooner Nation has turned its eyes once again to a national championship.

Sounds a bit too heady at first, doesn’t it?

  • 5-star QB signs with college football powerhouse.
  • Freshman is expected to wait his turn behind last year’s returning starter.
  • Incumbent QB’s offense grows stagnant in an important game.
  • Wunderkind comes off the bench and rallies his team to victory.
  • Team doesn’t lose another game.
  • Freshman is the MVP as blue blood wins the national championship.

It’s a lot, yes. But it’s not too much to ask of Caleb Williams.

Not when Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence recently pulled off the exact same miracle.

Tagovailoa did it for Alabama at the end of the 2017 season, when he came off the bench at halftime of the National Championship Game and replaced an ineffective Jalen Hurts against Georgia. He immediately rallied the Crimson Tide offense and eventually threw the game-winning touchdown pass in overtime.

And Lawrence did it the very next season, replacing Kelly Bryant in the fifth game of the season and leading Clemson to the national championship.

Hurts and Bryant had guided their team to the national title game the year before, but both Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney made big-boy decisions that produced a national title, altered the course of their programs — and ultimately sent Hurts and Bryant packing to other schools.

Freshmen QBs leading a national championship campaign used to be like finding a unicorn. Before 2017, only Jamelle Holieway at Oklahoma had earned that distinction when he supplanted injured Troy Aikman in 1985 and guided the Sooner Schooner to the crown with his wishbone wizardry.

Now, it seems, winning it all as a freshman isn’t really all that remarkable.

Williams certainly doesn’t think it’s too much.

Williams wanted to come to Oklahoma to study under Lincoln Riley. He didn’t uproot his family from Washington, DC, to Norman and dual-enroll in high school and college and wow the crowd in the spring game just so he could sit and learn all year behind Spencer Rattler.

Williams chose OU when the Sooners already had a verbal commitment from Brock Vandagriff. Williams and his dad, Carl Williams, have gone on record saying he was coming to OU whether Vandagriff was here or not — and was willing to walk on to prove it.

No walk-on was needed as Riley quickly offered Williams a scholarship, Vandagriff decommitted, and Williams began recruiting other future members of the Sooners’ class of 2021.

Caleb Williams throws for a touchdown

Caleb Williams throws for a touchdown

That ’21 class had its moments on Saturday in Dallas. Cornerback Latrell McCutchin, nickel back Billy Bowman, defensive end Ethan Downs, linebacker Danny Stutsman and wide receiver Mario Williams all made plays in the most exciting Red River Rivalry game on the books. Damond Harmon and Jordan Mukes also played.

Freshmen are different in 2021 than they used to be. They’re more prepared for the blinding glare of college football’s biggest stage.

And Williams, who threw for 211 yards, rushed for 88 yards and produced three touchdowns against Texas — none of them unremarkable — is the most ready of them all. His natural leadership stands out. Teammates gravitate to him and want to be led by him.

Oklahoma is now 6-0, and there’s no reason fans shouldn’t hope he can do what Tagovailoa and Lawrence did. The Sooners jumped two spots this week to No. 4 in the AP Top 25, and when the College Football Playoff Rankings come out on Nov. 2, they’ll have added games against TCU, Kansas and Texas Tech. A 9-0 start isn’t asking too much against this schedule.

With Williams taking snaps, that’s just a starting point for the Sooners.

Tagovailoa’s player rating as a recruit, according to 247 Sports, was .9843. Lawrence’s was .9999. After their memorable college exploits — and their national titles — both became first-round draft picks and are now leading NFL franchises.

Williams’ rating coming out of high school fit comfortably between them at .9969. He has the third-highest ranking of any prospect to the sign with the Sooners, behind Adrian Peterson (.9996) and Rhett Bomar (.9982). His all-time player ranking is tied for No. 102 (since 2000).

Williams is more of a dual threat than either Tagovailoa or Lawrence, as evidenced by his first-play, 66-yard touchdown sprint against the Longhorns. His ability to run the football all but fixes the Sooners’ biggest foible with Rattler: the run game.

Kennedy Brooks said it Saturday: Having Williams as a run threat opens up the defense for him and Eric Gray. That certainly played out at the Cotton Bowl as Brooks hit a career-high 217 yards.

A dynamic running attack is the one thing this offense lacked. Adding the QB run game and opening things up for talented players like Brooks and Gray changes everything.

And Williams’ passing clearly stretched the field. With Rattler as the starter, OU averaged 10.63 yards per completion, which ranked 108th in the nation. A stagnant running game, inconsistent pass blocking and an inexperienced receiver corps forced Rattler to constantly check down and throw the ball short.

In his first big game, Williams averaged 13.25 yards per completion, which would rank 41st in the nation but, in reality, seems to only scratch the surface for what’s possible.

Wideout Marvin Mims had the biggest game of his career with 136 yards and two touchdowns against the Longhorns. Austin Stogner was a receiving threat again. Even Trevon West caught two passes. Williams spread the ball out to nine different receivers.

Everything isn’t always going to be perfect for Williams. As Riley said, he “missed” several plays Saturday that should have been easy. He’ll eventually throw an interception. He may lose a fumble somewhere. He’ll have three-and-outs. He’ll make mistakes, and fans will get mad at him for it.

But moving forward, Lincoln Riley doesn’t even have a big-boy decision to make. Just like with Saban and Swinney, the decision has been for him. He really has no choice: Caleb Williams is the future of the Oklahoma program.

And the future starts now.