Horning: Riley has right mindset heading to Pasadena

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

OU's Lincoln Riley during the Sooners' game against Houston, Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019, at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

NORMAN, Okla. — Jalen Hurts was at it again Monday, not even cracking a smile when alerted he’s now thrown more incompletions than touchdowns, like that’s the new metric upon which he’ll be judged.

“Just trying to go out there and execute,” he said. “It could be better.”

Could it really?

He’s thrown six touchdown passes, seven incompletions and zero interceptions.

Lucky for all of us, Charleston Rambo, who's caught six of Hurts’ 34 completions and two of his touchdown tosses, was there to offer context, even if most of it underlined Hurts’ seriousness.

“He has a different mindset,” Rambo said. “He doesn’t want everything perfect, but he wants it right. Just being in the huddle with him, we know he’s about his business.”

Rambo offered this, too, which the Sooner Nation might find reassuring.

“He jokes around with us a lot, outside (the view of) media,” he said. “Ya’all don’t know that.”

So that’s one good thing to know as the Sooners prepare to meet UCLA Saturday.

Another good thing?

If Hurts’ over-seriousness needs a counterpoint, there is always the very wide angle offered by his position coach, offensive coordinator and head coach, of which all three are Lincoln Riley.

Two of Riley’s gifts are his general good humor and his ability to keep so many plates in the air.

It’s why he’s able to reinvent recruiting at an already storied and historic college football program, taking full advantage of everything the NCAA now allows in the name of player personnel, while also being both a coordinator and head coach.

It’s why he has absolute command of every name on his team, even the impossible to pronounce ones like David Ugwoegbu, not to mention the lowdown on every defensive position battle, right down to analysis of each combatant, despite the majority of his head remaining reserved for the offense he coordinates so well.

It's like he misses nothing.

That includes an appreciation for the moment, the venue and the we-get-to-do-this good fortune being part of a college football program like OU’s affords staff and players.

It’s why Riley will be drinking in the moment in Pasadena, working inside the Rose Bowl, one of the most historic venues of sport on earth.

It’s not only where they play the “Granddaddy of Them All” each year, but also where Brandi Chastain won the 1999 World Cup before iconically ripping off her jersey, where five Super Bowls have been played, where mountains majestically surround.

It’s pretty great.

“It’s one of the most historic fields in our game, absolutely it is,” Riley said. “Especially these non-conference road games, you only get a few cracks at these.”

Hurts may be all business to the extreme, but Riley, being Riley, will give his players permission to enjoy every bit of their trip.

Indeed, he makes the case there are competitive advantages to doing just that.

“You’ve got to appreciate the opportunities that this game gives you,” Riley said. “I don’t want to overlook it, certainly don’t want our staff to, don’t want our players to and I think that can be part of getting ready to play.

“Going to historic venues like this or getting to play non-conference games that don’t show up all the time, you’re going to remember these,” he said. “You want to play like you want to be remembered.”

It’s the right approach.

Healthy.

And, really, beyond Riley’s original inclination on Austin Kendall’s transfer — perhaps it’s time to let that go; have you seen the Mountaineers? Kendall may wish he weren’t playing — the number of wrong moves he’s made could be zero.

Seeing the really big picture is one more thing he’s getting right.

Horning is senior sports columnist for The Norman Transcript.

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