NORMAN – Comfort isn’t exactly a feeling Oklahoma Sooners offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley wants to have. He said it himself, if he feels comfortable, he’ll be selling his house in a year – and not because he got another job offer that he couldn’t refuse.
He doesn’t feel comfortable at Oklahoma, and that’s exactly how he wants it because of the expectation of winning.
Comfort is exactly what he’s getting this season, his second at Oklahoma and second with starting quarterback Baker Mayfield, who is in the same offense for the second-straight season for the first time in his non-PeeWee career. The level of comfort that comes between quarterback and coordinator – and can only really be forged through pressure situations and overcoming deficits – is a big reason why Year 2 under Riley should be a little different than Year 1.
“Not only is our team more equipped and totally now understands our offense and what’s required an all the little nuances of it, but also coach Riley knows what he has to work with,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “A year ago, he’s still piecing all that together. . . . All of it, I just feel like overall there’s a lot more confidence, and it’s a lot more fluid right now.”
Not everything is set on offense: Inexperience on the interior line and untested options at receiver.
The lynchpins of any offense are returning, though. Mayfield is at quarterback after finishing fourth in Heisman Trophy voting last year. The two bookends of the offensive line are back and provide a solid foundation. The running game might be as good as ever, and Oklahoma’s top receiver, Dede Westbrook, just earned his one-year chip on the Oklahoma roster.
“Coach Riley and even some of the other offensive coaches that are new really understand what we have now and the quality of players and type of players and what we can expect of them,” Stoops said. “I think that’s going to help us earlier in the year than maybe it did a year ago when we were still getting comfortable with what we had and what we can expect from players.”
Oklahoma stumbled out of the gate last year with a couple notoriously slow starts. The entire offense was learning Riley’s system and big portions of preseason camp were spent assessing the quarterback play.
Right tackle Dru Samia said that this preseason hasn’t been about everyone learning Riley’s system. There are new starters and rotation players who need to be caught up to speed, but there are semi-veterans who can help teach as well.
“Another year with the offense being installed, it’s kind of easier,” Samia said. “. . . That can be attributed to the second year of the offense. Everyone around (the new players) knows, so we can help them as much.”
Ultimately, the key cog in Riley’s comfort is Mayfield.
“When a guy has started and you go through all the stuff that you do through a season, particularly one like we had last year, it does,” Riley said. “Those experiences bring you together. The trust level goes up, especially when you’ve done it in high-pressure situations and when the team has been down at a Tennessee or at a Baylor or whatever it was. That builds it, absolutely.”