Riley’s offense evolution stays ahead of defenses
NORMAN — When Bob Stoops introduced Lincoln Riley as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator in 2014, he hammered home the point that the Sooners were returning to their Air Raid offensive roots from early in Stoops’ tenure.
“We had so much success with it through the years,” Stoops said of the Hal Mumme/Mike Leach offensive scheme. “Little by little in the last several years we slowly drifted away from it.”
That system was the reason Stoops went after Riley.
Four years later, in year two of Riley’s tenure as head coach after taking over as Stoops’ handpicked successor, Riley’s offensive bag of tricks has expanded far beyond just the Air Raid.
You don’t have to look any farther than last week’s win at Texas Tech to tell that.
On more than a quarter of the Sooners’ offensive plays, the Sooners packed up the field with two tight ends or slot receivers and a fullback and just two — or even one — wide receivers.
Such was the case on Jeremiah Hall’s 34-yard reception in the first quarter.
The formation was wildly successful, with Kyler Murray completing all five of his passes out of it and Trey Sermon picking up more than half of his career-high 206 rushing yards out of the formation.
That figures to continue to be the case when the Sooners host Oklahoma State on Saturday (2:30 p.m., ABC).
“We got on a little bit of a roll in that personnel grouping,” Riley said this week. “The confidence is high in it, and we were able to continually produce.
“I certainly enjoy finding any edge that we can and that was an edge for us the other night, certainly.”
One of the reasons Riley is constantly tinkering — he’s also added an occasional dose of option — is because of his success.
“People are trying different things against us,” offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh said. “They see it more against other teams and we’re doing some different things. We’re tweaking it.”
The play to Hall was particularly important, because it added a wrinkle the Sooners had yet to show off.
It forces opposing defenses to prepare for that and not to anticipate when Oklahoma uses the formation again.
“It may get them a little hesitant where we get a lot of (line)backers running through in those situations, just running as soon as the ball is snapped — running downhill and running through gaps,” Bedenbaugh said. “It may slow that down a little bit, at least I’m hoping.”
Stoops might’ve been talking Air Raid that day nearly four years ago when he brought Riley aboard, but even then, it was apparent that Riley wasn’t going to be boxed in.
“One of the beautiful things about this offense is it can become whatever we need it to be,” Riley said on the day he was introduced in Norman.
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley congratulates Kyler Murray and Trey Sermon during the Sooners’ win over UCLA earlier this season. Riley’s offense has continued to evolve in his time at OU.