OU football: Lincoln Riley confirms Bedlam matchup was in jeopardy due to COVID-19 concerns
NORMAN — Bedlam appeared in jeopardy earlier this week.
Not long before OU’s 41-13 rout of OSU, Stadium’s Brett McMurphy that the Big 12 discussed late into the week postponing the game and having OSU play Baylor instead due to COVID-19.
OU coach Lincoln Riley confirmed the report following the game, saying the concerns were with the Sooners.
But he declined to elaborate more.
“I'm not gonna get too far into that,” Riley said. “I mean, it's just a week to week deal that we deal with. We were either gonna play it now, or try to rearrange it, but luckily, things turned in a positive direction at the end of the week and we were able to play it.”
The Sooners’ depth has been tested at various times this season due to the pandemic, including the season opener against Missouri State.
On Monday, the university announced that there were 20 active COVID-19 cases among student-athletes. The report did not specify how many cases involved football players.
Stevenson finishes strong
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Rhamondre Stevenson’s reinstatement has given the Sooners a closer.
The 6-foot senior running back helped seal the victory late, rushing for 73 of his 141 total yards in the fourth quarter.
“Giving him the rock is never a bad idea,” OU quarterback Spencer Sanders said. “He’s playing really well. He’s going to continue to work and play well for us.”
Stevenson’s first carry in the final quarter was a big one.
He rushed for 25 yards, setting up Jeremiah Hall’s trick-play touchdown a play later.
Stevenson then had a 30-yard run from the Sooners’ 1 to set up a 99-yard touchdown drive after OSU elected to punt on fourth-and-8 from the OU 39.
In three games, Stevenson has gotten better each week. He’s totaled 332 yards and five touchdowns.
“I thought Rhamondre ran well, hit the holes well, ran tough,” Riley said. “And we got him through clean and he was able to make some of those second-level defenders miss.”
When the calendar turns to November, the Sooners are so far unstoppable under Riley.
The Sooners coach is 14-0 in November. OU has won 23 straight games in the month.
That allows them to virtually control their own destiny each season.
This time, it’s no different. If the Sooners win their next two games, they are likely in the Big 12 championship game despite two early losses.
“Meaningful football in November is something that your antennas are up for and it needs to be and it should be because you work a calendar year to put yourself in a situation that again, at the tail end of this thing or four months in or whatever it is, games mean something,” OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “So that is at the forefront.
“Does the intensity go up in this month? I would say yes. I think the teams that have success are also the ones that are the most consistent intensity that ultimately gives you a shot.”
Penalties still plague defense
As strong as the Sooners’ defense was, a few ill-timed penalties soured the performance at times.
And it started with OU in control 21-0 late in the first quarter.
The Sooners got a big third-down stop with an incomplete pass to Dillon Stoner.
But after Shane Illingworth’s pass sailed well over Stoner’s head, OU nickelback Brendan Radley-Hiles points his right hand at Stoner’s face. Stoner did slap it away and a flag was thrown on Radley-Hiles for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Illingworth threw a touchdown on the next play.
“Overcame some penalties which are probably the biggest negative for us, especially some of the personal fouls,” Riley said. “We had the two emotional ones that we haven’t been having and we’ve got to do better with.”
Radley-Hiles’ penalty was his seventh of the season and it drew a sharp rebuke from ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit.
“I wouldn’t play him,” Herbstreit said. “It happens so often that you have to consider just sitting him on the sidelines.”
Radley-Hiles wasn’t on the field for the touchdown pass, but returned to the game on the next drive.
OU totaled seven penalties for 87 yards.
Dean makes history driving Schooner
History was made early in the game.
Darby Dean, a senior, became the first female in school history to drive the Sooner Schooner when she led the way following a Sooners touchdown in the first quarter.
The Sooner Schooner has been a tradition for 57 years, dating to 1964.
ESPN’s Holly Rowe spoke with Dean during the game. She also reported that Dean practiced driving the Schooner 6 hours a week leading up to her debut.
“The most indescribable experience ever," Dean told Rowe. "I wish I had words to answer the question but I don’t. It’s just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”