NORMAN — The indictment falls upon Lincoln Riley, because what happened inside McClane Stadium was all about where his team’s been all season long, no matter how much the Sooner coach failed to accept it, deflected it or tried talking around it.
Riley has the intelligence, temperament, ambition, ego, compartmentalization skills and even the easiness, too, required to be a fantastic skipper, which is just what he’s mostly been since taking over for Bob Stoops one day after Patty Gasso’s Sooner softball team claimed the 2017 national championship.
But this season’s been a mess from the jump and it all came crashing down on Saturday, Baylor rolling over Oklahoma 27-14.
The reaction of the Sooner Nation ought to be and must be to ask, “How can this happen when you’re the healthiest you’ve been in forever, when you’ve had two weeks to prepare, when the College Football Playoff Committee has disrespected you multiple times, when you’re entering the most important three weeks of your season?” and it’s the right question.
The troubling part is, though we can’t possibly know the entire answer, we can know, this season, the way it’s gone from the start, everybody could see it coming.
The Sooners arrived in Waco pushing three different storylines.
One, Caleb Williams makes all things possible.
Two, last time out, OU finally, at last, put a whole game together, trouncing Texas Tech 52-21.
Three, despite remaining unbeaten, the Sooners had been a disappointment bordering on catastrophe the vast majority of the season, which is also the one the CFP selection committee chose to reflect.
Well, one game does not a season make; Williams indeed makes all things possible and for two quarters three weeks ago he helped put a loss to the nation’s worst team on the table because he’s still a true freshman and what he does not yet know could fill the Grand Canyon; and the eight games played prior to Tech’s Norman visit is a much greater sample size than the one played the day it visited.
How does a team lay an egg after getting healthy, when it really matters, at a time it ought to be its most urgent?
Who knows, but it makes all the sense in the world that it happen to this team, which barely beat Tulane, barely beat Nebraska, barely beat West Virginia and lost to both Texas and Kansas but for the unforeseen and largely unrepeatable heroics of its true freshman quarterback.
Saturday was brewing.
Perhaps Riley breathed fire in practice, but it’s hard to believe it.
It’s easier to believe every time he told us how close his team was that he really meant it.
It’s easier to believe all he thought it lacked were tiny bits of execution, a detail missed here and a detail missed there, rather than the emotional temperature of his team, which must be the culprit when it happens over and over and over again.
If one time he’d said, “as a matter of execution, we’re very close, but we need to have a different look in our eyes, I need to reach them in a way I’m failing to reach them,” it would have been a promising turn.
Instead, only the guy who coordinates the defense said that and, lo and behold, though Alex Grinch’s unit fell down plenty on Saturday, it wasn’t the big problem.
Riley’s offense never backed it up, never changed the barometric pressure of the game, never even possessed the ball long enough to build is own confidence or give its defense a suitable rest.
Not to mention the Sooners ran for 12 yards after the half, which can’t happen, and either no receivers were getting open down the field or Williams, in a haze, refused to throw when they were.
Why the nation’s most dangerously mobile quarterback became a stiffer statue than Dan Marino for so much of the contest makes no sense at all. Certainly that’s not a reflection on his position coach, is it?
All that and while players are primarily responsible for 15-yard penalties after the play that just can’t happen, those flags didn’t seem so shocking in retrospect after Riley flipped out, too, not wanting to put his team back on the field for the final second, an outburst that appeared to talk Baylor head coach Dave Aranda into adding a field goal to the final score with the last second remaining.
You know, even if Riley was right, that OU really was that close, it’s just a different indictment, because nine games over 10 weeks should be plenty of time to get over the hump.
It never happened.
There’s no reason to believe it will next week, the week after that or, should OU get there, the week after that inside Jerry’s World in Arlington.
But hey, Williams could offer more heroics. After his first trip to Waco, he’s due.