NORMAN – The Lincoln Riley era tripped coming out of the gate last season. Slow starts against Tulsa and Tennessee had some fans calling for the young offensive coordinator to leave before his coaching stint even really began with the Sooners.
By the end of the season, anyone who uttered those words was probably swallowing them pretty hard.
Oklahoma had the leeway to start slowly last year with no expectations and a comparably easy schedule. That’s not the case this year with two College Football Playoff contenders in the first three games of the regular season. A slow start against Houston or Ohio State could doom the season before it even starts.
In Year 2 under Riley, the Sooners have to find offensive rhythm pretty quickly.
“We better,” Riley said with a laugh. “. . . Our guys have a strong understanding that if we don’t, we’ll be in trouble. We play some obviously really good teams here in the beginning. We have to be very good really early.”
The pieces are in place to do just that.
Oklahoma returns starting quarterback Baker Mayfield, and things should run a bit smoother in Riley’s second year as offensive coordinator. There’s also no learning curve for Oklahoma’s top offensive skill players, who all picked up the offense and hit their stride around midseason last year.
Oklahoma will need to know more about itself this year.
“You have a good idea of establishing an identity going in, but you know, it has to happen,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “You have to get out there and see it come to fruition, and that only comes with games. We’ll sure try to have a strong one going into that last week going into game week.”
Part of that identity will revolve around the running game, which was still a major work in progress early last season because of a rebuilt offensive line and an offensive system that hadn’t exactly feature the run much at East Carolina or Texas Tech under Riley.
This year, and even with a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback, Oklahoma knows that teams will load up to stop the run.
“If they don’t try to do that, they’d be foolish, just because of the personnel we have inside,” Mayfield said. “. . . That room is the best talent of running back room in the country. Those guys, I trust them; our whole offense. I fully expect people to try and load up the box.”
That’ll have to pick up quickly where it left off at the end of last season.
“We have a sense of urgency to really push, to really get into a great rhythm going into that week of game week and really ahead of game week,” Stoops said.