OU football: Caleb Williams takes another step forward in Sooners' rout of Texas Tech
NORMAN — Caleb Williams didn’t need a late, pull-a-rabbit-out-of-his-hat moment Saturday against Texas Tech.
Instead, OU’s freshman phenom of a quarterback took flight like the Superman moniker he used on social media.
Williams’ Heisman Trophy candidacy is still the longest of long shots, especially given his late insertion into the race and in light of Michigan State running back Kenneth Walker III’s monster game Saturday for the Spartans.
But in the Sooners’ 52-21 dismantling of the Red Raiders, Williams gave OU’s offense exactly what it needed.
He gave them the spark he’d been giving them mostly consistently since deposing Spencer Rattler as the Sooners’ QB1 in the Cotton Bowl on Oct. 9.
For the first time, there was no long touchdown run for Williams. Instead, Williams did his damage through the air — throwing for 402 yards and six touchdowns. He completed 23 of 30 passes with no interceptions and didn’t find himself in trouble much.
“He gets better week by week, and today he obviously played phenomenally,” receiver Drake Stoops said. “Six touchdown passes? That’s unheard of, so it’s really cool to see him keep excelling and keep getting better. He found a bunch of receivers all over the field today, so it was really good to see him playing like that and distributing the wealth.”
He took advantage by pushing the ball downfield — and spreading the wealth among a receiving corps that looked better than it has all season.
After missing last week’s lackluster 35-23 win over Kansas, freshman receiver Mario Williams had his biggest day as a Sooner — five catches for 100 yards and a touchdown.
Marvin Mims, OU’s steadiest receiver this season, had four catches for 135 yards and two scores.
Austin Stogner, one of Rattler’s favorite targets a year ago before going down with an injury late in the season, made his first catch since the Red River Showdown.
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Williams ultimately hit five different receivers for touchdowns.
It didn’t start overwhelmingly for Williams or the Sooners’ offense, as they were forced to punt on the first drive after an early third-down conversion.
But what could’ve been a “here-we-go-again” moment instead wound up being about the only blemish on Williams’ day.
And Williams showed quickly the ability to bounce back from that.
On the next drive, Williams avoided some Texas Tech pressure to avoid a sack on second-and-9 from the Tech 22, then took off scrambling, with plenty of open space in front of him.
But once again, Williams demonstrated patience and vision, spying Mario Williams in the back of the end zone and hitting him in the chest for his first touchdown pass of the game.
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Just before that, he’d shown plenty of headiness, when he took a shot downfield to Trevon West after the Red Raiders had been flagged for offsides.
The pass didn’t hit, but Texas Tech was called for a pass interference on the play, earning the Sooners more yards.
After the dud of a start, Williams led OU to touchdowns on six of their next seven drives, and the Sooners got a field goal in their other drive during that span.
“He settled in and did some good things,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “He didn’t have a great first series, was just a little antsy and missed a couple throws. But I thought he had a really clear mind the entire way and obviously settled in there quickly.
“Really nice job of things inside the pocket and obviously made some key plays out of it. His patience was good. I thought we operated more efficiently with him in, which was a big goal.”
As good as he’s been in recent weeks, Williams looked cleaner against the Red Raiders.
“I’m not going to get into all the details here but there’s just been some small things here and there that just held us back from an operation standpoint that we needed to clean up,” Riley said. “He did. He played well.”
Riley has sometimes been hesitant to praise Williams much, though he said during the week that there wasn’t an agenda behind the way he’s spoken of OU’s first true freshman quarterback starter since Cale Gundy.
But asked afterward if he saw similarities to the innate abilities Williams has vs. those of the quarterbacks Riley has developed into NFL talent in recent years — Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray especially — Riley even had to admit that there was something special in what Williams was doing.
“There’s some things, just for him, that he does at a young age that are impressive,” Riley said. “He’s got a calm demeanor about him. … I think there’s a certain feel that he has on some things that are good and should continue to get better.
“It’s impressive to see his poise and the way he approaches it without having all the experience in the world.”