Tramel: Is the Spencer Rattler offense close to OU football's standard?
The Sooners take the Big 12’s best offense to Arlington this week for the Big 12 Championship Game.
Nothing new there. OU has sported the league’s best offense since Caitlin Riley first went house-hunting in Norman. That was six years ago.
But here’s something new. The team waiting in JerryWorld, Iowa State, has an offense that’s nearly the match of the Sooners. You can even debate whether OU has the quarterback edge with Spencer Rattler vs. Brock Purdy. There was no debate with Baker Mayfield vs. Kenny Hill, or Kyler Murray vs. Sam Ehlinger, or Jalen Hurts vs. Charlie Brewer.
There are two ways to view the OU offense.
Half-empty: This is the worst offense of the Lincoln Riley era. The lowest efficiency rating. Higher interception rate and lower completion percentage by Rattler.
Half-full: This OU offense has improved and isn’t that far from the Jalen Hurts offense of 2019 or the Baker Mayfield offenses from 2015-17. It’s not in the Kyler Murray range of 2018, and neither is any offense this side of Jack Mildren or Joe Burrow.
Perhaps you’ve noticed; the Sooners have set quite the standard. Their streak of five straight Heisman Trophy contenders will end, but Rattler is getting more and more comfortable. He threw five interceptions his first three Big 12 games; he’s thrown two since.
So just how close is the Rattler offense to the Hurts offense of 2019 or even the Mayfield offense of 2017?
“I think we’re close,” Riley said. “We’re close. And we’ve had some moments this year where we’ve been really really good.”
Recency bias arrives. When last we saw the Sooners, a 27-14 victory over Baylor, the offense stayed in low gear. But cut the Rattlers some slack.
A year ago, the Sooners slogged through a 28-24 survival of TCU in late November. In 2017, OU scored just seven second-half points against Iowa State and lost 38-31. Stuff happens.
“At times this year, and more times here as of late, we’ve done some things even better than those groups have done in the past,” Riley said. “Yeah, we’re close.”
Riley points out the obvious. That his five previous juggernauts dealt with nothing like a pandemic. From the cancellation of spring practice and summer drills to the revolving door of personnel caused by COVID tests and contact tracing, football 2020 is one strange ranger.
“Just so tough to gauge, cause I’ve never coached a year -- nor has anybody else, obviously not just central to us -- never coached a year when we had this many different lineups,” Riley said. “Every week, every day, something’s different.
“If you put those same groups (previous years) in this situation, in this pandemic, how does it look? I don’t know. But I do think we’re getting to the point where we can be pretty explosive and we can do some things well.”
Until Baylor, OU’s explosiveness indeed had increased. The first four conference: 16 plays of at least 25 yards. The next three conference games: 15 plays of at least 25 yards. Then Baylor held OU to a solitary big gainer, a 28-yard run by Rhamondre Stevenson.
West Virginia coach Neal Brown and his staff have prepped for the Sooners twice; the first game was postponed and the second was canceled. The OU-Baylor game was in between.
“I think it was a combination of things,” Brown said of the Sooners’ relative problems against the Bears. “Oklahoma not playing in a couple of weeks … they were playing at a really really high level on offense.
“I thought Baylor did some really good things schematically … but they still scored 27 points, they still won the game handily. I think it would be awfully early to say they’re not still pretty sporty on offense.”
Riley wants to be clear. He’s not saying the Sooners’ ship has entered port. Execution needs to be better. Mistakes remain. Penalties persist.
But remember, Riley suggested that in some ways, the Rattler offense trumps its predecessors.
“I don’t think any big-picture stuff,” Riley said. “Sometimes it’s small schematic things that maybe we’re doing better than we've done better than in the past. We’ve got some strengths that maybe a group before necessarily didn’t have as much.”
Then Riley realized what he had said.
“Those are some pretty good groups,” Riley admitted.
No one expects the Rattler offense to be better than the offenses of Hurts, Murray or Mayfield. Just being better than the Iowa State offense will be quite satisfactory.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.