The 2020 college football season did not start out the way Oklahoma necessarily wanted.
The Sooners lost two of their first three games this season first-year starting quarterback Spencer Rattler was struggling with ball security. The redshirt-freshman threw three interceptions in the Sooner’s Big 12 opener against Kansas State, a 38-35 loss and another in their next game against Iowa State, a 37-30 loss.
Rattler threw another pick in the team’s next game against Texas, the Red River Rivalry, but the Sooners were able to overcome a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the Longhorns 53-45 in quadruple overtime.
As the Sooners travel to Morgantown this weekend to face the Mountaineers, WVU head coach Neal Brown said it was that game against Texas that turned Rattler and OU’s season around.
“You can see his improvement really from the second half of the Texas game on,” Brown said. “What it seems like to me is someone who is more comfortable and someone who is playing more within the system. He still is able to extend and create plays, but he doesn’t look like he’s forcing the ball into some bad situations and some of that is just growing and learning.”
In four games since the Red River Rivalry, Rattler has been intercepted just once with the Sooners winning all four in convincing fashion. In every game of Oklahoma’s current five-game winning streak, the Sooners have opened double-digit first-quarter leads on their opponents.
Despite eventually being decided in a fourth overtime period, Oklahoma actually had a 10-0 lead over Texas at the end of the first quarter. The Sooners also had a 10-point lead in the first quarter of the next game at TCU. In the last three games, OU has built first-quarter leads of 21-7 against Texas Tech, 14-0 against Kansas and 21-7 over Oklahoma State just last week. For the season, the Sooners are outscoring opponents 124-17 in the first quarter this year.
“Statistically, if you look at college football across a number of years, scoring first matters, getting ahead in the first quarter matters, being ahead at halftime matters,” Brown said. “We’ve been pretty decent at it this year, outside of the Kansas game. We’re not at that point where it’s 124-17, we’d like to be, we’re not there yet but we haven’t been bad either.”
Comparatively, WVU has outscored its opponents 52-33 in the first quarter this season.
OU coach Lincoln Riley said the Sooners’ fast starts are not just because of their offense. Riley said the defense being able to control games early on has helped as well.
“For us to go in there and play as well as we have and be able to control people early in games has been huge for momentum,” Riley said. “We’ve been able to separate a lot in those early quarters because of the team and because of everybody doing it. It comes down to being able to execute early on and we’ve done that at a high level so far.”
Brown said it is important for WVU not to get hung up on the first quarter, however, and focus on making it a four-quarter game.
“Even if they’re ahead after the first quarter, you’re still going to be in it with a chance to continue to compete and we’re preparing for a four-quarter game,” Brown said. “We’re going to do our best to get off to a fast start as well.”
WVU and Oklahoma kick off at 7 p.m. Saturday from Milan Puskar Stadium. The game will be broadcast on ABC.