Lincoln Riley would have been happy just settling in as a high school coach – maybe even in his hometown of Mulshoe, Texas. After his one year as a walk-on quarterback at Texas Tech, the idea of coaching high schools players was something that really excited him.
Then came the student assistant job with Texas Tech, where he worked up the ranks before a very successful five-year stint with East Carolina. Guiding one of the most prolific offenses in the nation, Riley caught the eye of Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, who was looking to retool the Sooners’ attack.
There Riley stood on the sidelines in Manhattan, KS, on Saturday: His offense humming right along, having “found something” the week before in practice. There was no eureka moment, even after he guaranteed the Sooners wouldn’t go away from the offense following a miserable showing against Texas the week before.
With Baker Mayfield at the helm and working his best at an up-tempo pace, Riley sent in play after play. It seemed like Kansas State couldn’t stop any of them. The Sooners had four negative plays in the first half.
They had 13 plays of more than 10 yards and six plays of at least 20 yards.
Riley was in a groove, like a quarterback who can’t miss. He was calling the game a little bit on feel.
“It’s pretty easy to call when they are playing good,” Riley said. “I’ve always said there are maybe 5-10 calls where the play call is important.”
While Riley tries not to be too rigid with his offensive play-calling – something that his predecessor Josh Heupel had been accused of on occasion, he does lean on preparation when trying to find the perfect combination of setup, decoy and breakout plays.
Riley doesn’t game plan to one player. Instead, he tries to find the mismatch on the field. He won’t go away from a player who is hot either, like receiver Sterling Shepard was 144-yard performance against Tulsa.
He stays within the offense.
“We wanted to have an open mind and not worried about having to run this this much or have to get it to this guy this much,” Riley said. “I just think you limit yourself when you do that and that’s what we’ve always tried not to do.”
It doesn’t always work. The same instinct that helped Oklahoma scored 55 points against Kansas State was stifled against Texas, gaining just 278 yards of total offense and failing to score a touchdown until the second half.
“There wasn’t much difference scheme wise from this game from what we used against Texas or most of the other people,” Riley said after the victory against Kansas State. “We’re never going to vary a ton from that. It was rhythm of personnel and play calling and subs.”
And maybe a better feel – or just a better result.