Riley says splitting QB reps is easy to navigate
NORMAN — In the aftermath of OU’s 55-48 win over Texas last weekend, Sooners coach Lincoln Riley wasn’t talking much about Caleb Williams’ performance.
Sure, Riley touched on Williams’ outing, but kept going back to the overall performance of the offense and the continued faith he had in seemingly deposed quarterback Spencer Rattler.
Tuesday, Riley said he wasn’t going to name a starting quarterback ahead of Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. home game against TCU on ABC, but had plenty more to say about Williams.
“He did a good job handling it,” Riley said of his freshman quarterback. “It’s one game. He did a lot of good. … There’s some things he did well where he looked like a freshman and there’s some things that he didn’t do well where he looked like a freshman.
“I think it was certainly positive. Always excited to see a guy with kind of their first real shot with how they go perform and I think he ultimately handled it well. He’ll have a chance to get a lot better as he improves and as we go
“Always excited to see a guy with kind of their first real shot with how they go perform and I think he ultimately handled it well.”
Williams, like Rattler before him, arrived with sky-high expectations out of high school.
He was a five-star prospect, the top dual-threat quarterback in the 2021 class out of Washington, D.C.’s Gonzaga College High School.
As a freshman in a similar position, Rattler sat behind Jalen Hurts, who never gave an opening for Rattler to work into the lineup quickly.
But Williams’ opportunity came quickly, in one of college football’s most pressure-packed environments.
“There were still some young jitters out there,” Riley said. “Maybe not obvious to somebody that’s not coaching him, but there were still moments where he looked like a freshman.
“For a young (freshman) to go in and handle it at that position does say a lot about him. The atmosphere doesn’t get better than that.”
If Williams is named the starter, he would become the first true freshman to start at quarterback for the Sooners since Cale Gundy in 1990.
Riley said that when he started coaching, contributions from freshmen were almost considered a bonus. Now, they’re necessary.
“You look at college football in this day and age with rosters turning over so much — and maybe not as specific to just Caleb or just a quarterback position — but you better have true freshmen ready to play,” Riley said.
“It’s just the nature of rosters turning over more. You’re bringing in more new people than ever before and if your new people aren’t ready and ready to contribute, I mean you’re going to be behind.”
Riley said Williams was helped by the way the Sooners split reps in practice, and that balance will help this week as OU balances things between Williams and Rattler.
“We still give our backup here a decent chunk of the reps,” Riley said. “If we were to go 50-50 on the reps, it’s not going to cost the starter a lot and the backups are not going to be getting a whole lot more. I’m really just splitting hairs there. It’s very easily navigated.
“Again, I think it’s a heck of a problem to me if I felt like I had two guys who aren’t ready. … I feel like I’m picking between two really good choices that I think can both go play extremely well and have played extremely well.”
Sophomore receiver Marvin Mims, who had a pair of touchdown catches from Williams and had four catches for 123 yards from the freshman and one catch for 13 yards from Rattler, said it didn’t matter to him who quarterbacks the Sooners against TCU.
“Honestly, it’s the same thing no matter whichever quarterback it is,” Mims said. “Same thing last year. I mean, the way we practice that offense, both quarterbacks are going. There’s not really a divide between that. When we throw routes we’re catching balls from every quarterback on the roster. When Caleb came in it was the same thing. I have a job to do.”