Carlson: On a wild day for OU football, Sooner quarterback Spencer Rattler had the wackiest of them all
DALLAS — Spencer Rattler sprinted across the Cotton Bowl turf.
Catching Tre Brown.
Not many people can run down the speedy OU defensive back, but Rattler wasn’t about to give up the chase. The Sooner quarterback wanted to be there to celebrate with Brown once he stopped. Wanted to thank his teammate for finally bringing this wild game to an end.
OU 53, Texas 45 in four overtimes.
In a year when everything has been turned on its ear, the Red River Rivalry was not spared. There were things coming into Saturday that we knew would be weird that were every bit as odd as we thought — no State Fair of Texas, little traffic on the highways and byways leading to Fair Park, few people inside the Cotton Bowl — but the strangest thing of all was the game.
And the kookiest part was Rattler.
Through three games, he’s been extremely good. More often spectacular than suspect. Then in a two-and-a-half-minute stretch in the first half, Rattler made two of the more boneheaded plays you’ll see a quarterback make.
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On the final play of the first quarter, he stared down a receiver and threw the ball right to a Longhorn linebacker who stepped into the passing lane and returned the ball deep into Sooner territory. Then, three Sooner snaps later, Rattler failed to secure the ball as the pocket collapsed on him. It popped into the air — the official stats ruled a fumble, but it may well have been an interception — and the Longhorns again got the ball in scoring position.
The sequence kept Texas in a game that shouldn't have been close and earned Rattler a seat on the sideline.
Yep, the preseason Heisman hopeful got benched. It looked at first like Rattler might’ve injured his right bicep, squeezing his hand and eventually being attended to by medical staff, but the bigger problem was his play.
“Had a couple plays I didn’t like,” Sooner coach Lincoln Riley said of why he pulled Rattler, adding that backup Tanner Mordecai had practiced well of late. “I felt like Tanner would go play well, and I also felt like it would help Spencer take a step back for a minute and kind of see the whole thing and settle down.
“And I think that happened.”
Mordecai was adequate, going 5 of 7 for 52 yards, converting a couple third downs but lacking sizzle. No big passes. No game changers. He didn’t turn it over like Rattler had, though Mordecai did fumble it once and he was untouched on the play.
But the thing Mordecai did best was give Rattler a chance to settle down.
“I got a chance to sit back for a second, catch my breath and get back into the game,” Rattler said. “I was kind of surprised when I came out at first, but then, Coach Riley told me, ‘Just take a breather. You’re gonna get back in there.’”
And get back in there, Rattler did.
Both drives he led in the third quarter ended in touchdowns.
“Says a lot about him,” Sooner receiver Drake Stoops said. “Keeping his poise. Keeping his composure.”
Of course, the Sooners were a mess again in the fourth quarter. Offense. Defense. At a time everything in our world is topsy-turvy, one thing you can count on is OU giving up big leads in the fourth quarter.
The Longhorns scored 14 points in the last four and a half minutes of the game even though they had no timeouts.
Maybe we should’ve known it would go that way when Rattler opened the quarter with back-to-back completions that went for negative yardage. His own late-game woes returned, going 2 of 4 for minus-5 yards and rushing three times for 17 yards, inducing a sack and a fumble.
But as bad as Rattler was in the fourth quarter, he was that good in overtime. Not counting the two-point conversion the Sooners had to attempt in the fourth overtime, they had 16 offensive snaps. Rattler threw or ran on 13 of those plays, accounting for 70 passing yards and two touchdowns as well as 15 rushing yards and one touchdown.
“A big thing he talked about this week, he challenged himself to have a clean slate mentality,” Stoops said. “After every single play, just wipe it.”
Sooner receiver Theo Wease said, “Just taking it one play at a time. He definitely did that today.”
The only thing that stopped Rattler in overtime was Riley, who opted to attempt a game-winning field goal on second down in the third overtime. That was the lone overtime possession Rattler didn’t lead the Sooners to a touchdown.
“He just trusted it,” Riley said of Rattler’s overtime domination. “He was better here at the end of the game than he was the previous couple of weeks simply because he trusted it. He trusted his teammates. He stayed really true to his reads.
“Again, he’s a guy that’s going to take any setbacks or any failures and he’s going to learn from them. He’s not going to let them discourage him.”
During a year when things seem as stable as your seat on the Flipper — that’s the State Fair of Texas ride that someone once described as a Lazy Susan from hell — maybe we should’ve known the benched starting quarterback would come back to play like a Heisman contender when his team needed him most.
Maybe we should’ve expected when he was standing on the sideline watching his offense on the field without him that he’d be zooming across the field a few hours later in wild celebration.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.