NORMAN Oklahoma football coach Lincoln Riley said he was looking for overall improvements from his team in preparation for Saturday afternoon’s contest against visiting Kansas State.
That’s certainly understandable given the Sooners’ defense was struggling when it changed coordinators prior to an open date three weeks ago. It’s also expected on special teams after giving up 214 yards on five returns the previous week at TCU, which included a 99-yard kickoff return. However, it seems difficult to improve an offensive attack that has been at the top of college football since Riley’s arrival as offensive coordinator four seasons ago.
All of Riley’s expectations appeared to be met during a 51-14 romp over the Wildcats that keeps the No. 8-ranked Sooners (7-1 overall; 4-1 in Big 12) alive for their third College Football Playoff appearance in the last four years.
“Our team played a really complete game and made some improvements, certainly, from the last week,” Riley said afterward. “The team is listening. They’re listening to what we’re putting in front of them as a staff. They’re responding and it’s fun when you get all three sides rolling like that. Great team win.”
“They’re responding and it’s fun when you get all three sides rolling like that. Great team win.”
– Lincoln Riley
In the two games since Ruffin McNeill took over as defensive coordinator, the OU defense has stiffened and surrendered an average of just 260 total yards per game while allowing opponents to score on just two of their last 16 possessions. KSU managed 245 total yards and scored on two of 11 possessions.
“I think we’re playing a little more consistent right now. That’s probably the biggest thing,” Riley said of his defense. “I think getting some of these young guys back healthy has created competition with more ability on the field. Some of those young guys are certainly playing better and they’ve just got a good demeanor and mentally right now.”
Meanwhile, the 121st straight sellout at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium watched the Sooners score on their first nine possessions against the Wildcats and erupt for a season-high 702 total yards (380 passing and 322 rushing) while averaging 10.3 yards-per-play. It’s the 11th time OU has gained at least 700 total yards, five of which have been since Riley’s arrival in 2015.
“We hit some big ones,” Riley said of his offense. “Had a few at the right time. Guys made some great plays. I think it started with the physicality though, with us being able to run the ball. I thought our backs ran really hard. We played another very strong game up front. Once you can do that, you put teams in tough positions.”
OU redshirt junior quarterback and Heisman Trophy hopeful Kyler Murray completed 19 of 24 passes for 352 yards and three touchdowns before sitting out the final 23:20 of the game. He now has seven straight games of at least three touchdown passes (17 over the last four outings) and has accounted for 34 total touchdowns against just four turnovers this season.
“He’s got a good feel for what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to attack people and their adjustments,” Riley said of Murray. “He’s playing well.”
Murray said cutting down on penalties is a key component to the offense’s success. “I think as far as offense goes, we have a sense of urgency in knowing penalties have been kind of the backbone on what’s been bringing us back and slowing us down,” Murray said. “I think we’ve been getting better every week and that’s really all you can ask for is getting better each and every week.”
Sophomore receiver CeeDee Lamb caught four passes for a career-high 160 yards (40.0 average) with touchdown receptions of 82 and 57 yards. Lamb has at least one touchdown catch in each of the last seven games (nine total).
“The mood of the team is back to where it should be,” Lamb said. “I feel like after a loss, nobody in the country will be happy or satisfied. With us coming out here and finding ourselves again, it is a great feeling to be back.”
Redshirt freshman running back Kennedy Brooks gained 94 yards on just five carries (18.8 average) with two touchdowns, including an 86-yarder that matched OU’s longest play of the season.
Asked how he feels after the last two outings, Riley said, “It’s week-to-week. You can play like the best team in the world one week and then not play your best if you lose your edge at all. I think we’ve taken some positive steps and we have a decent idea what we’re capable of, but we’ve got so many challenges ahead.”
OU travels to face Texas Tech (5-3, 3-2) Saturday at 7 p.m. CT on ABC. The Sooners have won 18 straight true road games dating back to 2014.