Oklahoma football: Sooners rested during break, knowing tougher stretch is coming

NORMAN, Okla. — The last time Oklahoma departed a football stadium, it played, looked and felt like a weary group. The strain of a closer-than-expected 49-41 victory over Baylor showed.

One of the biggest in-season decisions Sooners coach Lincoln Riley made came last week. No. 3 Oklahoma (4-0, 1-0 Big 12) wasn’t at its best. Do you get out the grinder and try to sharpen the edge?

Maybe some of that occurred in practices last Tuesday and Wednesday. Riley put more stock in rest.

“We’re just all going to get off our feet, recover, watch a lot of film and tell each other what we see,” defensive end Obgonnia Okoronkwo said.

Lincoln Riley had a plan for the bye week

In many ways, the Sooners’ bye week was like a midterm break. Preseason camp began in late July. Five full weeks of practice led into the Sept. 2 season opener against UTEP. The Sooners played games the first four weeks.

They have eight regular-season games to go and the belief they’ll have a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game on Dec. 2. That’s nine straight weeks of football.

One of the first things Riley studied when he became the ultimate authority on Oklahoma football was how to handle that off week.

“We looked back the last few years. We were probably a bit of a mixture. We did a few things the same. We did a few things in practice a little differently — some different competitive periods. We got a lot of good-on-good work,” he said. “We followed the same script of trying to get our work done in the early-to-middle part of the week and then trying to … You have to let these guys get away. We grind them here, we really do.”

The players received a 3-day weekend. They knew it was coming a couple weeks in advance. Many of them returned home. Some stayed in Norman.

Injured players have healed up

Concussion protocol doesn’t have a timetable. Players who have been diagnosed with one have to be clear of symptoms for at least seven days before they return to play. But it seemed like the Sooners targeted this week for safety Will Johnson and Cody Ford to return from concussions they suffered against Ohio State.

Just about every injury the Sooners acquired before or since the Ohio State game left players out until after the bye week.

The only player whose status is uncertain for the game against Iowa State (2-2, 0-1) at noon ET on Saturday at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium is defensive tackle Matt Romar. Riley said that will be a game-time decision.

Freshman safety Robert Barnes is back from the hamstring injury he suffered against the Buckeyes. He had three weeks to recover from an injury that can nag throughout the season if not treated early.

Offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh said left guard Ben Powers continues to improve from an ankle injury he suffered in the season opener against UTEP. Powers has played in every game. Ford’s return can get him more rest.

Sophomore defensive end Amani Bledsoe returns after serving a 10-game suspension for a failed PED test, which began last season.

Tougher stretch coming for the Sooners

The performance against Ohio State dominates any discussion of what Oklahoma did in September. But remove the 10th-ranked Buckeyes from the equation and the Sooners’ other wins are against teams — UTEP (0-5), Tulane (2-2), Baylor (0-5) — that are a combined 2-12 thus far.

In the remaining eight conference games, only Kansas (1-3, 0-1) has a current losing record.

The Sooners have a 17-game conference winning streak that dates back nearly two years. They’ve shown an ability to separate from the Big 12 pack.

But the conference slate appears tougher than last season.

“You can’t let a team slip up on you or creep up on you,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “I think a lot of that comes from the top down. It’s coaching, instilling that in us and I think that’s something that I’ve been able to learn from and take within from that and I’ve been able to translate it individually throughout the locker room. It starts from the top and our coaches have done a great job with it every year of that.”

The post Oklahoma football: Sooners rested during break, knowing tougher stretch is coming appeared first on Diehards.

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