Oklahoma football: Lincoln Riley knows the Red River Showdown is different

NORMAN, Okla. — This is a different week for any Oklahoma coach. It doesn’t matter what happened in the non-conference schedule or in the few Big 12 conference games to date.

The difference between success and failure in the season’s first half rides on what happens in the Red River Showdown.

Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley leads the Sooners down the historic Cotton Bowl ramp for the first time when they face the Longhorns at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday in Dallas.

If the magnitude of it all gets to the 34-year-old coach, he hides it well. From his interactions with reporters, you can’t tell he’s about to lead the Sooners into a game that will partly define his first season on the job.

It’s to tell Oklahoma is coming off a stunning loss to Iowa State. Want a team to refocus quickly, tell them Texas is next. The notion that what takes place in the Cotton Bowl every October is just another game is something he quickly dismissed.

Lincoln Riley remembers his first time

Riley’s first experience in the Red River Showdown was as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator in 2015. Trying to explain the environment to the uninitiated almost always fall short. It’s something that must be seen and felt.

Riley grew up in west Texas. Riley’s parents are Texas graduates, but there were things about the game he didn’t understand until he was in the middle of it.

“It was a learning experience for me. I said it right after,” Riley recalled. “It’s a different game; it’s a different atmosphere. It’s closer to a bowl game to me than anything else. I think you’ve gotta have the kids in the right mind frame for it. The right mindset.”

The Sooners didn’t in 2015. Quarterback Baker Mayfield struggled and then undefeated and heavily favored Oklahoma fell, 24-17, to the Longhorns.

Preparation is key for this game. There’s always a little bit sucked away when the stage engulfs unsuspecting players.

“You’ve got to be there as a coach and know regardless of what you’ve seen on tape from either team it’s gonna be probably the best and hardest that both those teams have played all year,” Riley said. “I’d have enjoyed it a lot more if we’d won, but it was a good learning experience. I sort of felt more prepared going into it last year.”

Difference between being a coordinator and head coach

Riley’s offense had no problem functioning in last season’s 45-40 victory over the Longhorns. The Sooners put up 672 yards of total offense. He calls the Sooners’ offensive plays, but it’s different as coach.

The seven days leading up to the game are some of the most stressful of the season. The scrutiny intensifies. If there’s self-doubt, the assistants spot it and the players do, too.

“I got past that a long time ago,” Riley said. “Playing those guys at Texas Tech all those years. It’ll be an emotional game because it’s OU-Texas. Not because of anything else for me. I’ve enjoyed being a part of that game the last couple of years. Learned a lot about it. How it is. It is different. It’s a different vibe. Different atmosphere. But it’s a great game. One we’re going to embrace.”

Coaching legacies ride on the outcome

Three coaches sit atop Oklahoma’s coaching pyramid. Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer and Bob Stoops. All three won national championships and dominated whatever conference the Sooners were in at the time. All three also had winning records against the Longhorns.

Wilkinson brought the Sooners to national prominence in the late 1940s and 1950s. He also won in the Cotton Bowl nine times in his first 11 seasons. Wilkinson exited the series with a 9-8 record. Dropping six straight at the end signaled it was time to go.

Switzer went 9-5-2 from 1973-1988, including four straight wins to end the run.

Stoops went 11-7, setting the Oklahoma record for wins against its rival.

Riley had a hand in designing the Sooners’ new locker room. Trophy cases flank the wide doors. Hardware from national championships, conference championships or even one of the program’s five Heisman Trophies would fit nicely in either.

One contains the Golden Hat that the winner brings home from Dallas. That’s how important this game is to Oklahoma.

Riley gets it.

The post Oklahoma football: Lincoln Riley knows the Red River Showdown is different appeared first on Diehards.

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