NORMAN, Okla. — Injury questions are like fourth-and-15 play calls to Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley. He only goes for them in the most desperate times.
Riley metaphorically punted when asked about Oklahoma’s injury situation on Monday.
Running back Abdul Adams and receiver CeeDee Lamb left the Iowa State game in the first half with injuries and did not return. They’re not the only injuries with which Oklahoma is dealing. Safety Steven Parker didn’t play in the second half. Right guard Dru Samia didn’t suit up due to an undisclosed injury. Defensive tackle Matt Romar didn’t play for the second straight game for the same reason.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that are banged up. We’re gonna have to see how they progress through the week, some of those guys that came out of the game the other day,” Riley said. “I don’t think at this point that we could rule anybody 100 percent out, but some of these guys are gonna have to make some progress through the week to be ready to play.”
The absence of Adams and Lamb seemed to do more damage to Oklahoma’s offense than any defense this season.
CeeDee Lamb has been Oklahoma’s most consistent outside threat
Lamb suffered what looked like a shoulder injury when he dove into the end zone for the Sooners’ second touchdown. Oklahoma had a 14-0 lead at the time. His absence didn’t look like a big deal.
But Lamb averages 18.1 yards per reception. The touchdown was his team-leading fourth touchdown catch of the season. The Sooners lost their most consistent outside threat, and it showed the rest of the day.
The Cyclones consistently dropped eight defenders into coverage and forced quarterback Baker Mayfield to throw underneath or run. It worked. Mayfield completed 5 passes that went for gains of 15 or more yards after Lamb went out. Only two — a 19-yard pass to Jeff Badet in the second quarter and a 29-yard toss to Jordan Smallwood in the third quarter — went to outside receivers.
Lamb’s speed, catching and running ability spreads out a defense. Without him on the field, it was easier for Iowa State to keep receivers in front of them.
Mayfield’s lack of patience didn’t help. He routinely ignored open underneath routes with the hope that big plays would open down the field. They rarely did.
“For me, it’s about what’s best for us,” Mayfield said. “If they’re going to drop all those people back and give me an open lane to run, I’m going to take it. But if they’re going to leave somebody open or give us the chance at a one-on-one, then that’s where I need to take advantage of throwing the ball.”
Abdul Adams makes big plays
Adams, who suffered an ankle injury against Iowa State, had 3 carries against the Cyclones for 42 yards, upping his yards-per-carry average to 10.6 this season. Freshman Trey Sermon is the Sooners’ leading rusher, but Adams is the big-play threat.
Noting his absence was easy against the Cyclones. After he left the game, Oklahoma’s longest run by a running back went for 11 yards.
Mayfield helped out. He put up 4 runs of 10 or more yards. They move the chains, but they don’t put the fear into a defense the way long sprints by running backs do.
Those long runs cause defensive coordinators to abandon deep safeties and soft zone coverages. The Sooners rushed for 190 yards against the Cyclones. They were not able to control the game with their rushing attack.
Who steps up if Adams and Lamb are out against Texas?
The Sooners have a lot of receivers. Lamb, seemingly, is the easiest to replace. This should be an opportunity for Jeff Badet and Marquise Brown. They’ve combined for 27 receptions and 2 touchdowns this season. Both average more than 50 receiving yards a game.
They’re going to get more chances against Texas regardless. Lamb may play against the Longhorns, but it’s doubtful he’ll practice much.
It’s no surprise that players who practice well during the week tend to have better games. Coaches call more plays for them.
Sermon will be Oklahoma’s starting running back. But the player everyone is waiting for is sophomore Rodney Anderson. He only has 12 rushing attempts and averages 2.8 yards per carry. Running backs coach Jay Boulware admitted Anderson is still cleaning off the rust after missing the 2015 and 2016 seasons with injuries.
“He’s getting better,” Boulware said. “I told somebody the other day that I plan to see the most progress from the beginning of the year to the end of the year with him because he just hasn’t played an entire year yet. He has been here three years and hasn’t played an entire season. He has a lot of improvement to do as a tailback.”
This week the Sooners need these players to take a leap forward. It’s hard to win the Oklahoma-Texas game without offensive playmakers. The Sooners could be without two of their best weapons.
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