OU football: How do the Sooners fix their fourth-quarter woes? Lincoln Riley has a solution
NORMAN — OU’s offense in the first quarter of games this season has been like a Ferrari.
High-powered. Smooth. Sleek.
The defense might not quite be at break-the-bank imported sports car money, but they’ve been pretty good early in games as well.
In its three conference games, OU has outscored opponents 27-3 in the first quarter, averaging nearly 7.5 yards per play.
They’ve also dominated time of possession, holding the ball for an average of nearly 10 minutes in the opening quarter.
But in the fourth quarter, the Sooners have looked like an old jalopy, smoking and sputtering to the finish line.
OU has been outscored 45-10 in the final frame, its offense averaging less than half the yards per play compared to the first quarter and the time of possession being much more equal.
It’s clearly an issue.
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Sooners coach Lincoln Riley has spent plenty of time trying to figure out the fourth-quarter dilemma.
There are two obvious answers — physical and mental. Riley says it’s the latter.
“We see it. We’re addressing it, emphasizing it as much as we can,” Riley said. “But it just comes down to — we’ve gotta play cleaner football and our brand of football at the end. I think we’ve had some opportunities to close out games and at times, your mentality does shift a bit.”
Riley said he didn’t believe the problem was due to conditioning.
“I thought our front got pretty worn down against Texas, but I think every football player on the field was pretty worn down with the intensity,” Riley said. “No, haven’t been able to attribute to anything strength and conditioning wise.
“I think it’s us maintaining our focus.”
Players have noticed the slippage as well, especially as it’s been emphasized over the past few weeks since the Sooners let a 21-point, late-third-quarter lead slip away against Kansas State.
Since then, they led by a touchdown with 8:17 remaining against Iowa State before losing 37-30, and led Texas 31-17 with less than four minutes remaining before the Longhorns came back to force overtime.
“I think it’s sort of a thing where we’re not mentally as sharp at those times,” center Creed Humphrey said. “We have to do a much better job of staying focused, making sure we’re doing everything right, making sure we’re doing every technique that we’re supposed to be doing right, giving 100% effort, things like that.
“We’ve let some games get closer than what they should have, for sure (with) mental lapses late in games and things like that.”
While the defense has certainly played their share of the role in OU’s late-game struggles, the biggest change shows up on the offensive side.
During Big 12 play, the Sooners have punted 11 times — eight of those have come in the fourth.
Riley pointed out the Sooners’ success in recent years at closing games out, especially with a strong running game and by the defense making it difficult on opponents to score even if they were giving up yardage.
“We’ve won a lot of games that way,” Riley said. “But … whatever the mindset is in that moment, you still have to do it well. That’s probably the thing for us, is we’re putting ourselves in some decent situations and we’ve gotta execute in those situations much better and we’ve gotta coach better in those situations.”