Lincoln Riley came to Oklahoma with a reputation as an Air Raid wunderkind. Apparently, he learned something about designing a devastating running game along the way, too.
Stats show the Sooners didn’t sacrifice productivity on the ground in their shift away from a Pistol-flavored scheme prior to the 2015 season. OU's national ranking in Rushing S&P+ put the Sooners among the best in the country in the last three years. A pair of monsters like Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine in the backfield helped with that transition, but it seems notable that OU’s rushing attack actually improved last season without them.
Considering that OU is adding speedster Kyler Murray to the equation behind center, it’s easy to imagine Riley building his offense from the ground up this fall and just keeping it rolling. That might not be so easy between the lines.
With Baker Mayfield at the helm last season, OU had an offense that was as close to flawless as you’ll ever find in college football. The Sooners had an effective counterpunch for everything defenses threw at them, as well as counters to counters. (For more on this approach to analyzing and designing an offense, read Chris Brown's article on constraint theory.) Even when everything went wrong, Mayfield boasted a preternatural ability to wriggle his way out of trouble and keep it moving.
As such, OU’s running and passing games enjoyed a symbiotic relationship: Defenses couldn’t tailor game plans to force the Sooners’ hands because the alternatives were just as dangerous. The Sooners could take whatever opposing defenses offered.
Hard to imagine that lasts this year, even if Murray exceeds all expectations as a thrower. So what happens to the running game – and the offense as a whole – if OU's aerial attack can't put constraints on opposing defenses?
There are far worse problems for a college football coach to have, but marrying Murray's skills as a passer with OU's running game could put Riley's creativity to the test this season.