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'We were a little stale': Why did OU's Lincoln Riley replace Caleb Williams with Spencer Rattler?

Ryan Aber

WACO, Texas — The ball sailed high and deep into the Texas sky, and all of the sudden it seemed like maybe, just maybe, there could be another storybook tale unfolding for an OU backup quarterback.

Spencer Rattler’s pass was on target, looking like it was about to be a big play to Mike Woods to seize momentum for the Sooners.

But Baylor cornerback Raleigh Texada curled his right arm around Woods’ right arm.

Woods still nearly pulled it in, but the ball bounced off his helmet and then to the ground just before the Arkansas transfer regained control.

No catch. No flag. No storybook ending. No win. Probably no College Football Playoff.

In No. 8 OU’s 27-14 loss to Baylor on Saturday at McLane Stadium, Sooners quarterbacks were left confused and shaken, disconcerted and bumfuzzled by a Bears defense that had just been ripped to shreds a week earlier by TCU’s Chandler Morris — who had transferred away from Norman after having little hope of finding playing time behind Rattler and the incoming Caleb Williams.

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It’d be easy to blame Williams’ performance on JT Woods’ cleats — the Baylor safety stepped on Williams’ throwing hand in the second quarter just as OU’s offense was starting to show a bit of life.

But Williams was rattled from the start, brought down for a big loss on the second play of the game.

On his second pass of the game, Williams forced a pass into double coverage, first passing up a chance to throw underneath for what would’ve been a first down and then eschewing throwing the ball away.

Williams looked every bit like a true freshman against the Bears.

Before he re-entered the game with less than four minutes remaining, Williams was just 8-of-17 for 84 yards. 

He’d been sacked three times and looked rattled.

“He made a couple errors here and there,” Sooners coach Lincoln Riley said. “I think most of his frustration came from we had a lot of plays that we, for one reason or another, didn’t make.

“Just some general frustration on not executing the way that we know we can and not making the plays that were there for the taking.”

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OU quarterback Caleb Williams (13) is brought down by Baylor Bears cornerback Raleigh Texada (3) during the first half the Bears' 27-14 win on Saturday.

Late in the first half, Williams was still out of sync but the Sooners were showing promising signs after Williams ran for a 19-yard gain on second-and-16 to bring the ball into Baylor territory with the game tied at 7.

But as Texada brought him to the ground near the sidelines, Williams braced himself with his right hand. Woods, pulling up behind the play, didn’t slow down fast enough and stepped on Williams’ hand.

The freshman starting his fourth game came up shaking his hand and any momentum the Sooners had begun to build offensively went out the window.

That drive ended on a Gabe Brkic missed field goal. The next, early in the third quarter, ended on another interception on what appeared to be a busted play.

Williams looked like he tried to heave the ball out of bounds. Kennedy Brooks, the closest player to the pass, thought it was going out of bounds and stopped pursuing.

Baylor cornerback Al Walcott didn’t give up on it, leaping up and hauling it in.

Williams had thrown one interception in his first 109 passes as a Sooner.

He threw two in his first 14 passes Saturday.

After another stalled drive, the restless OU contingent in Waco started chanting for Spencer Rattler. 

Riley agreed, and made the switch, trying to get a jolt of energy with the game still very much in the balance with Baylor leading 10-7.

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“I don’t know how much that (Williams’ hand getting stepped on) affected his throwing or not,” Riley said. “It probably affected it a little bit. But yeah, we were a little stale, honestly, and had a little stretch there, end of the second quarter and kinda the beginning of the third quarter where we had a few things there that he missed that he just typically doesn’t miss and so I was looking for a little bit of a spark.”

But that brief moment of hope that Rattler’s first throw gave quickly faded away.

Rattler’s initial drive quickly fizzled into a three-and-out.

On his second drive, the offense showed a bit of lift but a holding penalty on Brayden Willis and a 9-yard sack of Rattler ended any thought of another showing of Sooner Magic and by the time OU got the ball back — and Riley went back to Williams — Baylor lead 24-7 with 3:57 left.

There will be no storybook late-season rise to the Heisman Trophy for Williams. It was unlikely he’d pull it off going in and those chances were completely scuttled on the banks of the Brazos River.

There doesn’t figure to be a College Football Playoff appearance for the Sooners. There’s still a chance, but now OU would need external help when it looks like it needs plenty of internal help with a tough two-game stretch remaining. 

“A lot of guys fought their tails off but it just wasn’t clean,” Riley said. “Lot of mistakes.”