Oklahoma Football: Why do Sooners struggle in College Football Playoff?

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /
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Four years in the playoffs for Oklahoma football, four disappointing defeats. The question looms: Why do the Sooners continue to struggle in the playoff?

Four years in the playoff for Oklahoma football, four disappointing defeats. Ranging from a heartbreaking loss to Georgia at the Rose Bowl, to a complete and utterly embarrassing performance against LSU, it has not been pretty. The in-between has not been much better for the Sooners and the question looms: Why does Oklahoma struggle in the playoff?

First off, it may not help with who they are getting matched up with. While no team that beat the Sooners in the semi-final have gone on to win the national champions (yet), they have faced the SEC Champions three straight years.

Coming up against Georgia, Alabama, and LSU three years in a row is not going to go well for anybody (outside of the SEC) in the country and something nobody should ever have to do. Even when playing a weaker defense that the explosive offense could possibly expose like LSU, they somehow match up against one of the best quarterbacks in the history of college football.

The most critical reason for struggle is how poor the Oklahoma defense has been in their playoff years. It has been ranked 29 (2015), 68 (2017), 101 (2018), and 63 (2019) in total defense the years they have made the playoff. Legendary Head Coach Bob Stoops was still in charge in Norman in 2015 and actually had a solid defense.

Even then, they still gave up 37 points to Clemson in a game that Deshaun Watson only threw for 189 yards. Giving up an average of 54 points per game the past three years has been the demise of the Sooners, even with their elite-level offense.

The final reason for their struggles is questionable in-game decisions Head Coach Lincoln Riley has made, especially early in the game. It began in the Rose Bowl against Georgia. The Bulldogs had only stopped the Oklahoma offense and Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield once all half. The Sooners were dominating. After a field goal, the Sooners extended the lead to 31-14 with under 10 seconds left in the first half. Lining up to kick the ball off, Austin Seibert decides to kick it right at Tae Crowder, giving Georgia the ball in positive territory.

Georgia hit a 51-yard field goal to make it at 31-17 at halftime and gave them all the momentum. From that point on, the Bulldogs outscored the Sooners 28-14 in the second half (seven of the Oklahoma points were from a defensive touchdown). Georgia went on to win in overtime, producing one of the greatest games in college football history.

In 2018, a historically bad Sooner defense was coming up against (at the time) the most efficient quarterback the game has seen and the third highest-scoring team in the country. Tua Tagovailoa and company were licking their chops at what they could do.

Oklahoma won the coin toss and decided to let Alabama start the game against a team that gave up 453 yards per game. They went on to do this:

  • Tagovailoa pass to Smith for 50 yards
  • Harris run for 1 yard
  • Harris run for 4 yards
  • Tagovailoa pass to Harris for 15 yards
  • Harris run for 4 yards
  • Harris run for 0 yards
  • Harris run for 1 yard, touchdown

All of that in just over three minutes. That continued in the first half, as before most people could blink, the Crimson Tide were up 28-0. It may not have affected the final outcome of the game, Riley never should have given Alabama the opportunity to get early momentum. A high powered offense led by Kyler Murray could have gotten points to start the game instead, giving them a fighting shot.

While there was no chance Oklahoma could have beaten LSU, no matter what happened early in the game, Lincoln Riley once again made an early game mistake that gave the opposing team all of the momenta early in the first quarter. The Tigers kicked off to the Sooners and Oklahoma had a chance to get on board early. After a six-yard sack on Jalen Hurts by K’Lavon Chaisson, Riley called run plays on second and third down, immediately stalling against LSU’s defense.

While it is always important to have a good opening drive in any game, when playing against as high powered of an offense like LSU, teams need to keep them off the field for as long as possible. They stayed off the field for a total of 2:05 and went down and scored in 0:52 to make it 7-0 in favor of LSU. There is no guarantee it would have worked, but seeing Riley try to throw it to continue the drive could have made the first half better than it turned out.

There is no doubt that Oklahoma has been outmatched in every single game they have played in the College Football Playoff. Playing against the beginning of the Clemson dynasty and three straight SEC opponents would be tough for anyone to handle. Mix in historically bad defenses and a fairly new head coach still learning how to coach in big games and most teams would go 0-4.

On a positive note, they are still the kings of the Big 12. The conference is no doubt on the rise, but the gap between the Sooners and the next best time is still wide. With how good their recruiting classes have been and assuming Lincoln Riley stays away from the NFL, they will continue to have opportunities in the College Football Playoff. One of those games has to go their way eventually.