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Oklahoma Football Press Conference: Lincoln Riley on injuries, defense, Will Grier, Kyler Murray

The regular season finale is upon us, as the Oklahoma Sooners (10-1, 7-1) hit the country roads for a Friday night Morgantown showdown against the West Virginia Mountaineers (8-2, 6-2). Head coach Dana Holgorsen is in his eighth season at the helm of WVU, and will look to defeat OU for the first time since joining the Big 12 in 2012.

The game will feature a duel between Heisman Trophy candidates Kyler Murray and Will Grier, and Lincoln Riley addressed the two QBs and the similarities in their college football careers. He also answered questions about his struggling defense and the injuries that continue to pile up in his Monday press conference.

On Monday, both Lincoln Riley and Kenneth Murray spoke about how they thought the defense played clean and was in position all night against Kansas. The problem was that they weren’t the more physical team and didn’t tackle with championship effort. Riley assessed the defensive effort from Saturday night and on the season as a whole.

“I think our effort’s been good. Would I say our effort has been elite all the time? Not all the time. It’s been good, and I think it’s been particularly good since we made the change. I don’t think effort has been a major factor in the times when it hasn’t gone well for us.”

The injury bug is starting to bite the Sooners in a big way in key parts of the team, particularly at running back. Riley provided updates on the status of Trey Sermon, T.J. Pledger, Neville Gallimore and Justin Broiles.

“I think there’s a chance, but neither one of (Sermon and Gallimore) were really very close to being able to help us last week either. The short week is probably working against us a little bit there.”

“Broiles is doing well. I think more of a scare than anything. Certainly when we got out there to go check on him. They were able to keep an eye on him overnight, and everything’s progressed extremely well I would say. Certainly not anything long-term with Broiles. T.J. is kind of in that same category as Trey, as Neville. He’s been a little nicked up, he’s been close. We thought middle of last week there was a chance. By the end, there wasn’t even a chance, just wasn’t quite ready. I think there’s a chance this week, but he hasn’t practiced with us yet.”

Interestingly enough, both Murray and Grier began their collegiate careers in the SEC, but differing circumstances led both to the Big 12. Now they’re considered two of the most elite players in all of college football, and have aspirations of a conference title and beyond. Riley spoke about the parallels of their careers and how special both are on the field.

“They both go in and have some early opportunities at big name schools. Adversity hits, I know it was two different situations, but then they end up in different places. The both had to handle that. I’m sure Will handled it very well, it wouldn’t surprise me. I know Kyler handled it well here. It’s fun to see guys like that that maybe were at the top, then, not totally forgotten about, but kind of off the radar, to continue to work and approach things. It’s fun to see those guys playing at a high level. So it’s kind of a neat story, lot of parallels. People Friday are going to be watching two of the best ones out there, for sure.”

At 9-2, Army is on pace to have its best season in decades. In fact, the Black Knights have not lost a game since taking Oklahoma to overtime in September. Riley opened up about why that’s significant and why he’s not surprised.

“Just like the Iowa State game last year, everybody here thought we lost to a horrible team. I told everybody after, ‘they’re going to win some games’. Just like I told everybody after we beat them up there in Ames this year in a tough game. I said that win, down the road that thing’s going to pay dividends, just watch. I feel the same way about Army. Army was good, no doubt about it. A lot of people would love to have that win right now. That was a big win for us at the time. It was a tough, hard-fought battle. That’s why you can’t read too much into preseason rankings, or how big a school is or this or that. It’s about the two teams on the field in that one moment, and I think it was clear to everyone in the stadium that we were on the field with another very good football team.”

Meanwhile… in Stillwater

Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy also held his weekly presser on Monday and explained why Thanksgiving is his favorite holiday. Apparently, Cale Gundy is an absolute tank and a phenomenal dinner guest (depending on how you look at it).

Full press conference links

Once again, Kenneth Murray answered questions about the defense’s poor showing. K9 said the focus in practice after Bedlam was pass coverage. I suppose that was apparent, as Kansas did far more damage on the ground (348 yards on 36 attempts) than through the air (176 yards on 28 attempts). OU’s starting MIKE linebacker pointed to shoddy tackling as the primary reason why the Jayhawks had so much success on the ground. Still, the team captain remains positive and optimistic about the future of the unit.

Heisman talk is heating up as the regular season draws near its conclusion, and Kyler Murray is at the front of those discussions. He says he knows what’s being said about him, and he’s appreciative of the comments. And when it comes to his dual-threat abilities, he was asked about what he trusts in more — his arm or his legs?

Last week Riley was asked about the progress of the defensive coordinator search, and on Monday he again was posed with a similar question about the job opening. So exactly how much time is he allotting towards finding a new DC?

Riley: “Zero.”

To his credit, his full answer was mostly coach speak. He maintained that he and the coaching staff is only focused on winning the next game at the moment, and that’s rightfully where his head should be at right now.

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