Riley goes conservative, costs Oklahoma in CFB semifinal

By Michael Kinney

PASADENA – Fortune favors the bold. It’s an old saying but one that will often pop up in the sports world when people try to put into words why teams win.

When all reasoning says to be conservative, it’s the athletes and coaches who take chances that often come out on top.

That is a lesson first-year head coach Lincoln Riley will have to learn at some point if he ever plans to become one of those championship coaches.

In the Sooners double overtime 54-48 loss to Georgia Monday, the second-ranked Sooners reverted back to a conservative offense when it seemed the situation called for boldness.

After the Sooners’ Steven Parker scooped up a fumble and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown, the Sooners led by seven points. The defense then came up with a defensive stop and forced the Bulldogs to punt with just over six minutes on the clock.

Instead of looking to put the game away, Riley, who is also the offensive coordinator, decided to run the ball exclusively and try to run the clock out. It didn’t work and the Bulldogs got the ball back and drove down the field to tie the game.

In the first overtime, the Sooners held the Bulldogs to a field goal on their first possession. All OU needed to do to end the game and move onto the national championship was score a touchdown.

With possibly the best big game quarterback in the country on his roster, Riley could have let Mayfield try to win the game right then.

Instead, Riley called nothing but run plays and had to settle for a field goal to send it into double overtime. That included bypassing an opportunity to go for it on fourth and 1.

“I was close. I was close,” Riley said of his decision. “I went back and forth on it a little bit, and I had a lot of confidence in Austin like I have here the second half of the season. Then we had just held them to a field goal, I think, defensively, so I felt good about the second run at it. I don’t know. My gut said to kick it, and we did, and we made it.”

Regardless of what happened in the second overtime. Oklahoma missed out on opportunities to go and win the game. In other words, they played not to lose instead of to win.

Riley had an amazing season for Oklahoma. Leading the Sooners to a second appearance in the College Football Playoffs in only his first year can’t be overstated how impressive it is.

Yet, there was times season when Riley showed a tendency to take the foot off the pedal and become conservative. This mindset almost hurt the Sooners against Baylor and Oklahoma State. It ended their season against Georgia.

“So you do the very best you can in that moment,” Riley said. “I called the plays at that time that I thought were the very best, and, yeah. Will there be ones that I want to have back? Yeah. But, again, you learn from those, but I’m not going to dwell on them. You call enough plays, you’re going to call some bad ones, so — but we laid it all on the line, coaches and players.”

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