Notes on the coach: Longhorns are tasked with slowing down nation’s best play-caller

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Trey Young | OU Daily

Lincoln Riley’s rapid ascension into superstardom has been impossible to miss if you’ve spent any time following college football over the last five years. 

Since Riley took over play-calling duties for Oklahoma in 2015, his innovative approach to running an offense has turned the Sooners into an offensive juggernaut and led them to almost unparalleled regular season success across college football. 

In the 2015 and 2016 seasons, when Riley served as offensive coordinator under head coach Bob Stoops, the Sooners posted two consecutive 11-win seasons off the strength of an offense that ranked fourth and third in points per game, respectively. 

Despite Riley’s lack of prior head coaching experience and only having two years under his belt with the Sooners, the powers that be in Norman felt confident enough in his leadership and play-calling abilities to name him Oklahoma football’s 22nd head coach following Stoops’ retirement in 2017. 

The hiring made Riley the youngest head coach across all of FBS at the time, and the West Texas play-caller hit the ground running. 

In his first three seasons as head coach, Riley has been the mastermind behind Oklahoma offenses that have powered the Sooners to three consecutive Big 12 titles and three consecutive appearances in the College Football Playoff. 

In the five years that Riley has been responsible for calling plays, the Sooners rank first nationally in scoring at 44.6 points per game, total offense with 554.9 yards per game, touchdowns from scrimmage with 382, pass efficiency rating at 189 and yards per attempt at 10.7.   

 

These statistics, combined with the success of Riley’s teams, have turned Oklahoma into a haven for quarterbacks. 

In his first two seasons as head coach, Riley developed quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray — both transfers who weren’t able to get on the field at other programs —  into Heisman Award winners who went on to be the No. 1 picks in the 2018 and 2019 NFL Drafts. 

Riley also played a vital role in the turnaround of quarterback Jalen Hurts. After losing his starting job at Alabama, Hurts transferred to Oklahoma. Following his lone season with the Sooners, he finished second in the Heisman voting in 2019 and was later chosen in the second  round of the 2020 NFL Draft.

After he experienced such immediate success in the win column and in player development, rumors of a potential jump to the NFL began to swirl around Riley.

Oklahoma quickly responded by signing its head coach to a six-year, $45.2 million dollar extension this past summer to keep the young play-caller in Norman. 

Although Riley is now financially secure and has shown he is one of the nation’s best head coaches, the 37-year-old still has a lot to prove. 

The Sooners have made it to the College Football Playoff in three consecutive seasons but have yet to advance to the national championship game under Riley. This inability to win the big game has sparked criticism that Lincoln’s offensive genius is perhaps due to the notoriously bad defense across the Big 12.  

Those rumblings haven’t been quelled by Oklahoma’s performance thus far in 2020. The Sooners have stumbled out to a 1–2 start and don’t look quite as powerful now that a transfer quarterback isn’t leading the charge.  

With that in mind, expect Riley and the Sooners to give the Texas defense everything they have this weekend when the two teams face off at the Cotton Bowl.