OU football: Sooners' offense has slowed down in last two games, but still plenty effective

Ryan Aber
Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler is pursued by Baylor linebacker Hakeem Vance in the first half of their game in Norman, Okla.

NORMAN — Dan Mullen chuckled at the assumption.

“Looks like Lincoln (Riley)’s still putting up an awful lot of points there,” the Florida coach said Sunday after the Cotton Bowl matchup between Mullen’s Gators and OU was announced. “I don’t think they’re having a lot of offensive woes there.”

But after scoring 28 or more points in 60 consecutive games, a span where the Sooners averaged more than 45 points per game, OU has scored “just” 27 in back-to-back games.

So what’s wrong with the Sooners’ offense?

Not a lot, really, according to Riley, but OU — as well as its defense has played recently — figures to need to put up plenty of points in order to pull off its first bowl victory since the Sugar Bowl after the 2016 season.

“Nine guys can be doing it freakin’ perfect and one or two guys aren’t and it looks like a train wreck,” Riley said recently. “That’s a part of playing offensive football.”

The Sooners have managed 671 combined yards in wins over Baylor and Iowa State, their lowest two-game total since 2013. Since Riley’s arrival for the 2015 season, OU has topped that number in a single game 13 times.

The Sooners looked like they had broken out of their one-game offensively doldrums early in Saturday’s Big 12 Championship Game, with a pair of touchdown drives sandwiched around a missed field goal drive in the game’s first 15 minutes and change. All three of those drives went at least 65 yards.

From that point on, though, things became a slog. The offense that picked up 11 first downs by the time Marvin Mims scored on a 45-yard touchdown pass on the first drive of the second quarter managed just nine the rest of the game.

One area Riley wasn’t concerned about was quarterback.

“I thought he probably played his best game of the year,” Riley said of Spencer Rattler. “I thought he was poised. I thought he did a great job in the scramble situations, threw some elite throws. I thought he made good decisions with the ball.

“He was in the right place a lot. His eyes were where he was supposed to be. He went where he was supposed to go.”

Early in the year, Rattler had a tendency to get shaken when things didn’t go to plan, or force throws into dangerous spots leading to interceptions.

There was none of that Saturday, a big reason why the Sooners were able to pull off the 27-21 victory.

OU was just 1 of 11 on third down against the Cyclones, their one conversion a 4-yard run by Mikey Henderson in the first quarter.

The Sooners had converted 43.4% of the time on third down in their first nine games.

“The biggest problem was most of them were long yardage,” Riley said. “So we didn’t put ourselves in very many great situations there.”

The Sooners certainly didn’t do themselves many favors leading up to those situations.

While the Sooners averaged 8.4 yards per play on first down, OU gained three or fewer yards on 11 of its 30 first-down plays and averaged just 3.3 yards per play on first-down plays that didn’t result in another first down.

Of the third-down misses, six were on incomplete passes, two completed passes that wound up short of a first down, one rush by Rhamondre Stevenson and another on a Rattler sack.

“We had a couple times where we had some stuff open and didn’t protect good,” Riley said. “Had a couple of competitive plays that we thought we had real opportunities to make that we didn’t make. Couple of times I had bad calls. I mean, I don’t know.”

But though the Sooners’ offense the last two games hasn’t been what it’s been for most of Riley’s tenure, it has still been effective, overall — especially when paired with the defense.

The Gators, OU’s Cotton Bowl opponent, have the third-longest active streak of scoring 27 or more points. Florida has reached the mark in 13 consecutive games. Alabama has scored 27 or more points in 24 consecutive games, second behind the Sooners’ current streak of 62.