Carlson: Why OU football needs Spencer Rattler to get through his fourth-quarter growth spurt
Spencer Rattler studied the scoreboard during OU’s final timeout last Saturday night.
“Third and five,” he said to no one in particular.
You could almost see the wheels turning inside the Sooner quarterback’s head. There was less than a minute on the game clock — 53 seconds to be exact — and the Sooners were down a touchdown. But if the OU defense could get a stop, Iowa State was going to have to punt from deep in its own territory.
The Sooners might have a chance.
Rattler might have a chance.
That defensive stop, of course, didn’t materialize. Such has become the norm in Sooner fourth quarters, and while that could change Saturday in the Red River Rivalry, don’t hold your breath unless you’re comfortable with oxygen deprivation.
This defense isn’t winning games.
So far Rattler hasn’t either.
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On the list of problems Lincoln Riley and Co. have right now, Rattler is way down the page, if he’s even on it at all. He has thrown for almost a thousand yards and completed almost three-fourths of his passing attempts through three games.
“We’ve tried to stay just really focused on … let’s really break this thing down to what it is, and the things that we’re doing well, let’s build on them,” Riley said. “And he’s doing many things very, very well and honestly, a little bit ahead in some of the areas, maybe a little bit further ahead than I would have guessed at this point.”
But Rattler isn’t perfect.
And the area where he needs to improve is the area where it’s become increasingly obvious the Sooners need him most — the fourth quarter.
His fourth-quarter numbers overall have been underwhelming. In his first two Big 12 games as the starter, Rattler is a combined 12-of-26 passing for 120 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and three sacks.
Not bad for a redshirt freshman who is a first-time starter.
But not good for a team that is going to have to win with offense.
The Sooners have been spoiled these past few years not only with offenses that have scored seemingly at will but also with quarterbacks who produced late in games. Baker Mayfield. Kyler Murray. Jalen Hurts. Each of those guys was able to win ball games in the clutch, and they didn’t really have to learn how in Norman. They had been starters before arriving at OU and went through their growing pains at their previous schools, not their finishing school.
We didn’t have to endure the clumsy stages that come with every growth spurt.
But that has changed with Rattler. For as talented as he is — and he is immensely talented — there will be some awkwardness as he gets this all figured out. He’ll stumble at times. He’ll fall on occasion.
“He’s a competitor,” Riley said. “He knows he belongs in that arena.
“Of course, he’s going to continue to get better as the years go on.”
The good news is, there are signs Rattler is already getting steadier on his feet in the fourth quarter. The sample size is small, of course, but Rattler’s late-game performance is trending the right way.
Against Kansas State, Rattler was 4-of-12 for 48 yards in the fourth quarter. No touchdowns. One interception. Worse, the offense managed only three first downs in that last quarter.
Fourth-quarter possessions: punt, punt, punt, interception.
That did little to stem the purple tide engulfing the Sooners that day. The offense didn’t put together any long, sustained drives that might’ve recaptured the momentum and helped the defense.
But against Iowa State, Rattler and the offense were better.
He was 8-of-14 for 72 yards. One touchdown, and he should’ve had a second one but for a drop. One interception, and the way the back of Charleston Rambo’s jersey was pulled, that pick could’ve easily been negated by penalty.
The fourth-quarter possessions: field goal, touchdown, punt, interception.
All of that is reason for optimism at a time when Sooners near and far are desperate for one. Rattler may not be able to win ball games in the clutch yet, but he might not be all that far away either.
OU needs him to get there as quickly as possible.
Should it happen Saturday against Texas, all the better.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.