NORMAN – Baker Mayfield took the blame first Monday afternoon, but that’s only because he spoke to the media before anyone else. Blame was passed around the offensive room Monday evening as the rest of the Oklahoma Sooners spoke with the media.
It wasn’t exactly blame that was the reason for the Sooners’ season-opening loss. But was it even the decisions made by the coaching staff?
A series of misfortunes changed the tide of Oklahoma’s momentum, but decision-making played its part too.
The Sooners only handed the ball off once in the second half before going down 16 points. Once Houston took a 16-point lead, there was still 17 minutes to play in the game. Oklahoma (0-1) handed it off just three more times.
They all but abandoned the run game, and after going back and watching the film Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said that the balance between scoring and saving clock, as well as the unknown of how many plays they’d get after running just a handful in the first half, made things difficult.
“You didn’t know how much you were going to have it,” Riley said. “We were trying to mix scoring with trying to save some clock, too. We called it the best that we could. I’ve never had a game – good or bad – where I didn’t look back. … There’s ones that you wished you had back.”
As the game went along Saturday and the Oklahoma defense started slowing down Houston, it became more apparent in hindsight that Riley would have had more chances. But in the first half, Oklahoma had just five possessions.
Possessions might have been fleeting, but time wasn’t much of an issue. In the first half, Oklahoma never had a possession last longer than 3:17 despite running the ball on at least 50 percent of the plays on every possession.
Even after going down by 16 points, Oklahoma received five more possessions – one ended in a touchdown, one in a fumble, two in punts and one in a turnover on downs. Oklahoma didn’t hand the ball off once in the final 12 minutes, and Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon combined for just two touches.
“It was knowing that we can do it and more of the disappointment of not playing well,” Riley said of the frustration in the second half. “We have to get past that. We have high expectations, and we’ve got to be able to handle it when things don’t go our way much better than we did. And that’s me included.”
The one thing no one called Riley on Monday was a prophet.
The loss to Houston on Saturday turned quickly on the offense in the second half by putting them in a hole. Riley saw that climb, but he couldn’t have seen that the Sooners’ defense, which allowed just 73 yards in the second half, would have its own reversal of fortune. On Saturday, Riley made the best of the situation that was put in front of him.
“He’s not out there making plays or not making them,” Stoops said. “I’ll see what some of the opportunities were there. We’ve gotta do a better job executing. He’ll get that done. He’ll get it across to the players, who ultimately have to get it done.”
One glaring hole in Oklahoma’s run game was the injury to Rodney Anderson, which reared its head quickly. Perine and Mixon make for arguably the best running back duo in the nation because they compliment each other so perfectly, but when Perine goes down, no one can fill his role. Daniel Brooks and Abdul Adams aren’t stepping in to run between the tackles, and for all Mixon’s talents, hard-nosed running isn’t his strong suit.
With Perine dinged up, Riley had even fewer options in the run game.
Immediately after the loss, Riley said the offense didn’t make as many routine plays in the second half and forced things. He said that he needed to do a better job, but in the end, he didn’t really have to. Riley, in some ways, just played the hand he was dealt.
“I felt like we were close,” Riley said. “We lost our patience a little early, maybe, a little overaggressive. I kind of thought we got a little down when the defense was getting stops and we weren’t converting those into touchdowns midway through the third into the fourth. Finally at the end we settled in but it was too late.”