The current Sooners offensive coordinator and Mike Leach disciple spent five seasons in Greenville helping institute a prolific Air Raid offense that set more than 50 school records while racking up the five highest passing yard totals in ECU history.
Pirate fans weren’t the only ones who noticed, as Bob Stoops snatched Riley’s talents up in the offseason to install the Air Raid at Oklahoma. John Jancek’s defense will now be forced to stop the passing barrage sure to come from Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield and a host of talented skill position players in one of the most intriguing coaching matchups of Saturday’s contest.
“I expect them to be fairly similar (to when Riley was at East Carolina),” Jancek said. “Obviously he has some different personnel. He’s got a couple of big backs up there that certainly he didn’t have when he was at East Carolina, but I expect them to be fairly similar to what they did there.”
Those two backs, sophomore Samaje Perine and redshirt freshman Joe Mixon, add a dangerous wrinkle to an explosive offense unafraid to air the ball out at any time. The Sooners racked up 439 total passing yards, 388 from Mayfield in setting a school record for freshman quarterback debuts, against Akron in Riley’s offensive coordinator debut.
“He did a great job of letting it come to us,” Stoops said in his Monday teleconference. “We had some issues early on, some with penalties, some with lack of execution that didn’t allow us to move the ball early, but he didn’t panic about it.”
Tennessee isn’t panicking either after a shaky start in pass defense. The Vols gave up 433 yards through the air to Bowling Green last week in a performance Jancek doesn’t think is indicative of his team’s capabilities.
“We didn’t play well as a defense,” Jancek said. “The kids know it. It was a disappointing performance and we have to get better in a hurry.”
The Vols made adjustments to some early big plays by the Falcons, switching from man coverage to zone with safety help over the top. That helped limit Bowling Green to just 72 passing yards in the fourth quarter and showed Tennessee’s coaching staff an area that needs to be worked on heading into Saturday’s non-conference clash.
“That was good for us to find that out about ourselves,” Jancek said. “We’ve got to move on now and continue to get better.”
The Vols are hoping to disrupt Mayfield in the pocket with All-SEC talents Curt Maggitt and Derek Barnett. They’ll also be helped with the addition of defensive backs coach Willie Martinez, who was suspended for the Bowling Green game for a secondary NCAA violation, and cornerback Justin Martin, who is rehabilitating from a knee sprain suffered in fall camp.
"I've been really, really excited with (Martin’s) progress. He's healthier. He's much more confident,” head coach Butch Jones said. “How many repetitions will he gain on Saturday? I can't answer that. The game will dictate a lot of that, but I've been very pleased with his competitiveness with getting out there, how he's been fundamentally [and] how he's been locked in not just from a defensive standpoint, but also from a special teams standpoint as well.”
Despite giving up the fourth-most passing yards in college football last week, Tennessee’s secondary isn’t shaken mentally, led by preseason All-SEC candidate Cameron Sutton. To Jancek, this week will be a tale of redemption.
“I don’t think they have an issues in confidence,” Jancek said. “Show me a corner that’s never been beat, right. It happens. Certainly we have confidence in them as their coaches, and I think it begins with that. We know we can make some adjustments to give those guys some relief and mix things up more than what I did in that ballgame.”