Rattler’s Youth A New Challenge For QB Guru Riley

When the odds came out for this past weekend’s college football games, and Oklahoma was listed as a 28-point favorite against Kansas State, I thought it was absolutely ridiculous. Kansas State may have looked bad in their season opener, but they beat Oklahoma last season, and the Sooners’ Spencer Rattler was making his first start against Power-5 competition. Rattler has been much hyped as a darkhorse Heisman candidate, due partly to his talent level, which is clearly high, but also due to Lincoln Riley, the ‘QB whisperer’. Riley has produced a Heisman finalist in each of his four years as the Oklahoma head coach, including two winners. One potential factor, brought up by many analysts, was that each of those prior quarterbacks had been transfers. 

Despite the question marks, Rattler quieted many doubters in his debut as a starter, dicing up an inferior Missouri State offense for 290 yards and four touchdowns in just one half of play. Yes it was Missouri State, but Rattler hardly looked wowed by the collegiate stage. It looked like more of the same in the early going against Kansas State, as Rattler posted a 17-19 stat line, tossing three touchdowns. However, those two incompletions fell into enemy hands, as two interceptions kept Kansas State in the game. The second pick led to the Wildcats’ only scoring drive of the half, as the Sooners led 21-7 at halftime. 

Oklahoma kept up the pressure at the start of the second half, racking up two more scores to go up 35-14 with 2:46 to go in the third quarter. 

If you’re a Sooners’ fan…look away now,. 

After taking a 21-point lead, it took a total of 13 snaps for their advantage to be narrowed to a single touchdown. The Wildcats utilized a 78 yard pass to score in three plays. They forced a fumble on Oklahoma’s next possession, and then they punched in another touchdown, grinding it out on a 8-play, 38-yard drive. Suddenly, it was 35-28, but Rattler still had an advantage, and the ball. 

To be fair, it wasn’t just Oklahoma’s redshirt-freshman quarterback that melted on Saturday, but he didn’t inspire anyone with his clutch-time performance. He went 2-5 on the ensuing drive, getting to midfield before stalling out. A blocked punt set up the Wildcats for another touchdown to tie the game, and Oklahoma got the ball back with 8:17 left in the game. Rattler completed one of three passes there, taking a bad sack on third down, which led to Kansas State getting great field position at their own 40. The Wildcats banged through a field goal, but hope wasn’t yet lost for the Sooners. 

Rattler and Co. would get two more chances with the ball. But neither possession was a productive one, as the Sooners went 3-and-out and punted it away. They got one more shot, starting at their 24-yard line, but Rattler was picked off on the second play of the drive, securing the stunning comeback upset victory for the Wildcats. All-in-all, after taking a 35-14 lead, Rattler completed 4 of 13 passes for 65 yards, throwing an interception and taking one very ill-timed sack. Prior to that, he was 26 of 28 with four touchdowns. 

The takeaway? Rattler is really good – but he is also really young. The talent was clearly there in his impressive early numbers, but the poise and clutch gene appeared to be lacking in a horrific finish to the game. Essentially, he’s young. Thus, Lincoln Riley, who has been elite with a varied batch of transfer quarterbacks, must now prove his mettle in mentoring a quarterback with virtually no collegiate experience. Rattler’s three interceptions was the most by an Oklahoma quarterback since 2014, before Riley arrived in Norman. It’s an entirely new challenge for the QB Whisperer. And he doesn’t have a lot of time to figure this one out. Oklahoma travels to Iowa State on Saturday, and the Cyclones are getting hyped up for the primetime clash, breaking out their all-black uniforms that they are 3-0 all-time in. They are not an easy game, and no one can be taken lightly after Oklahoma lost to K-State, who was 0-1 with a loss to Arkansas State. Following Iowa State? It’s the Red River Rivalry and another Texas-Oklahoma classic. 

Rattler’s got talent. But it takes more than just raw talent to survive in College Football, particularly in the offense-heavy Big 12. Can Riley work his magic once more, or are the Sooners done in 2020?

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