OU football: Lincoln Riley says Sooners' defensive recruiting in better shape than 2015 offensive recruiting
NORMAN — Since Lincoln Riley arrived in Norman in January 2015, the results have been inarguable.
The Sooners have gone to three College Football Playoffs in Riley’s four seasons at OU, become a record-setting juggernaut offensively and had a top four finisher in Heisman Trophy voting each season including the last two winners. Oklahoma has also gone back to putting together annual recruiting classes near the top of the sport.
But Riley said last week that it wasn’t just a plug-and-play process on the recruiting trail when he got started.
“It was frustrating four years ago when we came in here offensively, despite the track record that a lot of us had had, that we couldn’t get in the door with some of the elite, elite guys,” Riley said. “And that drove me crazy but at the same time, you understand that you do have to go prove it.”
That’s a valuable lesson for Riley, new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch and staff as they try to pull off a similar turnaround on the defensive side.
The Sooners have a little bigger task here, though.
In 2014, Oklahoma was ranked 52nd nationally in total offense and No. 90 in passing offense. The year before, the Sooners were Nos. 12 and and 29, respectively, in those categories.
Oklahoma was No. 114 in total defense last year and No. 129 — last — in passing yards allowed.
The Sooners did prove it offensively in 2015, with an offense led by Baker Mayfield and leaning heavily on Samaje Perine, Joe Mixon and Sterling Shepard. They finished No. 23 in total offense and 83rd in passing offense.
Riley was hired just weeks before signing day in 2015 and wasn’t able to add much of note to the class that year, with only A.D. Miller (21 catches, 236 yards in three seasons) and Quinn Mittermeier (37 career appearances, mostly on special teams) the only post-Riley commits in the class.
Things were even slow going in the 2016 class for the Sooners offensively, with Ben Powers a three-star junior college prospect who blossomed quickly, as the top contributor.
But since then, Oklahoma’s offensive recruiting has been on a roll.
It remains to be seen how the defense will perform not only next season but beyond.
Only two of the Sooners’ eight 2020 commitments are from defensive players — both cornerbacks.
Riley still feels good about where things stand on the defensive side, though he said it’ll take on-the-field results to help push recruiting even more.
“Recruiting defensive players without a defensive coordinator in place this December was easier than recruiting offensive players when I got here.
“So you just feel like, all right, if we can just go play the way we know we can then that’s why I think everybody feels like the best is yet to come for this program.”