OU football: How Sooners coach Lincoln Riley channeled 'The Godfather' to dial up a score in Bedlam
NORMAN — At 37, Lincoln Riley wasn’t more than a decade away from being born when the now-classic movie “The Godfather” was released.
But Saturday night in Bedlam, the OU coach turned to a play named after the film to help put away the Sooners’ in-state rivals.
The play, which resulted in a 30-yard touchdown pass from Spencer Rattler to Jeremiah Hall on the second play of the fourth quarter, is just the latest example of the offensive creativity that has earned Riley a reputation as an offensive savant, or as Sooners broadcaster Toby Rowland called Riley in his scene-setter before the game “the Maestro from Muleshoe.”
Riley’s play design put Tre Sterling in an impossible spot.
First, Rattler looked to the sidelines and took a step to his left, lining up behind the guard while running back Rhamondre Stevenson was behind center.
As Stevenson took the direct snap and handed the ball to Rattler, Marvin Mims went into motion, drawing a defender over and leaving the Cowboys with just two players — Sterling and Rodarius Williams — on that side of the field.
Williams was tied up with Drake Stoops, who ran deep, leaving Sterling with two bad choices — stick with Hall and give Rattler plenty of open space to run or go after Rattler, and hope he couldn’t get the ball to Hall.
But Rattler did loft the ball over Sterling to Hall, who took it in for the touchdown and put the game, which the Sooners had controlled but hadn’t fully put away, out of doubt.
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“It was either look great or terrible and that one ended up looking pretty good,” Riley said on the Sooners’ postgame radio show, revealing the name of the play as “The Godfather.”
As soon as Rattler let go of the ball, he threw his hands in the air in celebration. He knew the Sooners were going to score.
“We have the best offensive coordinator in the nation, I think,” Hall said. “It’s not really surprising because we work on it all the time and we expect those type of results, so it’s a little bit of, ‘Wow, did that just happen?” but at the same time, it’s supposed to happen.”
Play calls like that one come with the territory in critical games against strong teams, where lining up and doing the same things the offense has done week-in and week-out might not be as effective.
“You can’t come into big games like this against a great opponent and play conservative,” Riley said. “And not that we have. We really wanted to emphasize that with our players, that we had to play aggressive, we had to go take it if you’re gonna beat a good team like this.”
And Riley certainly called an aggressive game.
While the Hall touchdown was the shining example of that, there were others — most notably regularly using Stoops in motion to help clear out defenders out of an area the Sooners exploited after the snap.
Stoops finished with two catches for 20 yards but might’ve run more than anyone else in the game.
Not all of Riley’s chances work out, just look at the first time he called “The Godfather” play.
In the first quarter of the Peach Bowl last December, after the teams had traded touchdowns on back-to-back drives put LSU up 14-7, Riley dialed up the play.
On that play, Tigers safety JaCoby Stevens had the same decision as Sterling to make, but the combination of a low throw by Jalen Hurts and Stevens’ long arms allowed the defender to bat the pass down harmlessly.
“It was just as open,” Riley said Saturday. “It wasn’t quite as successful.
“One of those moments (in Bedlam) where it felt like the right thing. But you have to have a lot of trust in the guys on those plays, and really execute them at a high level.”