AMES, Iowa – Oklahoma’s football team needs to take a hard look in the mirror this week.
Following Saturday night’s 37-30 loss to Iowa State, the Sooners now have their first regular-season losing streak since 1999.
There have been many contributing factors in the back-to-back losses, including inconsistency on offense, second-half defensive woes and costly special teams miscues.
Youth and inexperience could be playing a factor.
“Is it some young guys in key positions? Sure, but that’s not an excuse or a crutch. We feel like we have the players in there to continue to get better,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “We feel like we took some steps. Again, it’s hard to accept that when you look at the scoreboard at the end of the game. We’re so used to winning and we expect to win every time we touch the field. That’s not going to change.
“We have some youth and some key guys that are young and in some of these positions for the first time. They’ve got to grow and we’ve got to continue to coach them better. We’ve got to continue to grow and get to the point where we can finish the games we know we can and play as good as we know we can.“
A loss to Texas would leave OU at 1-3, which would be their worst start since beginning the 1996 season 0-4 under first-year coach John Blake.
Trying to find a solution will have to be a warp-speed project. Up next is a rivalry game with Texas.
Here is what we learned following Saturday’s loss:
Spencer Rattler was asked to rally a comeback in a pressure-packed fourth quarter for the second consecutive week.
It’s not easy for veteran quarterbacks, let alone a redshirt freshman making his third start.
Rattler had 3:58 remaining in regulation and faced a 37-30 deficit when he started the Sooners’ final drive. He moved the offense to the Iowa State 34 until throwing a final interception in the end zone with 1:02 left.
In a loss to K-State, Rattler also threw an interception on a last-gasp comeback effort.
What did he learn from both games?
“Trusting the reads, trusting my guys. You know, we’re making plays. We’re doing a lot of positive things, a lot of positive things. We’re so, so close from filling that gap for all of us,” Rattler said. “Nah, just trusting it. That’s what I learned the most.”
Rattler doesn’t have the benefit of having experienced running backs, NFL first-round playmakers at wide receiver or a consistent offensive line. It’s a tough scenario for a quarterback still trying to get comfortable at the position.
Rattler’s preparation during the week and in the game wasn’t lost on team captain Creed Humphrey.
“He was very mentally focused. You could tell he wanted this one bad,” Humphrey said. “He did a great job tonight. We obviously as an offensive line need to give him better protection. But he did a great job tonight.”
Rattler has had two tough learning lessons.
How fast did things turn for the Sooners on defense? One series in the third quarter told the story.
Oklahoma was trying to clutch momentum and grabbed a 20-16 lead following Gabe Brkic’s 33-yard field goal.
The Sooners appeared to force a three-and-out (capped by a forced fumble following Nik Bonitto’s sack) but were flagged for defensive holding on cornerback Tre Brown. On the next play, ISU quarterback Brock Purdy threw a 65-yard touchdown pass on a slant pattern by Xavier Hutchinson to give the Cyclones their first lead.
“That’s one of those things we were in position to make a play. They made one, we did not,” defensive coordinator Alex Grinch said. “And obviously you don’t put your corners in that no-deep (safety) situation every single snap, but we’ve got to hold up when we do and ultimately get them on the ground if we’re not gonna make a play on the ball.”
OU allowed Iowa State points on five of six possessions, an eerie reminder to the K-State game when the Wildcats scored on five consecutive drives in the second half.
Grinch continues to search for answers as the defense trying to hold up its end of things.
“What you’re seeing on film right now from a week ago and then what you saw (at Iowa State) was just too much of the rollercoaster,” Grinch said. “The same guy that shows an ability to play elite coverages on particular snaps is the same guy that has a breakdown later in the game. The same guy that’s making tackles and being a solid contributor for us defensively doesn’t do so.
“Opportunities to get two hands on footballs in the pass game, again, have a tendency, right now, for us to not come down with it. Those things in the end, those missed opportunities, continue to hurt us. That’s something obviously that we have to get better at and just ultimately really disappointing. And again, that comes back to coaching. We have to do a better job and secure those plays.”
Texas game is essential
What will the atmosphere be like inside the Cotton Bowl on Saturday?
For only the third time in the past two decades will Oklahoma and Texas meet in the rivalry game following a loss. The Longhorns dropped a 33-31 home game against TCU.
There won’t be 90,000 screaming fans, and no state fair outside the stadium gates. It’ll be a create-your-own-atmosphere game for both programs.
For OU, losing to their bitter enemy would be rubbing salt into an already gaping wound from losses to Kansas State and Iowa State.
“We have to learn from these past two games, see what we’ve been doing wrong and work our asses off to fix it this next week,” Humphrey said. “Texas is a tough team, it’s going to be a tough game and we need to come fully prepared for it.
“This week of practice has to be ridiculously good and we have to attack it the right way. We can’t hold our heads down because we’ve lost two in a row. We have to get over that, get back up and go onto the next one. I’m excited to see how this team responds to this.”
Many of OU’s mistakes are correctable, co-captain Pat Fields said. He chose not to focus on the Longhorns, but rather concentrate on fixing his own team’s issues.
“The biggest thing is just focus on ourselves. There’s plays tonight that we got beat, we got out-executed, but the majority of our bad plays came from us beating ourselves, from us missing tackles, from us failing to come away with takeaways or whatever it is,” Fields said. “So I think the biggest thing we need to do is focus on ourselves. Whenever we all focus on ourselves, whenever we’re playing elite football, it looks elite. Teams struggle to move the ball against us. But whenever we fail to execute our job and do the simple things, it looks horrible.”
View from the sidelines: Oklahoma at Iowa State
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