Lincoln Riley’s 8-WR Plan Will Elevate Oklahoma’s Run Game

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It became apparent throughout Oklahoma’s disappointing 2014 that Sooners head coach Bob Stoops needed to shake things up offensively, and he did just that with the hire of Lincoln Riley.

A product of Texas Tech, Lincoln Riley is no stranger to the Big 12. And, as a branch off the Mike Leach coaching tree, Riley’s familiar with innovative offensive thinking. He’s certainly wasted no time implementing his brand of innovation on the Oklahoma playbook.

After the Soooners’ spring game on Saturday, he laid out a vision that’s a vast departure from anything Oklahoma’s run.

Barry Switzer’s Wishbone, it ain’t.

Even in 2008, under pass-happy Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson’s offensive guidance, Heisman winner Sam Bradford had just five wide receivers who produced significant numbers — six if you count running back DeMarco Murray, recipient of 31 passes.

Lincoln Riley’s vision of at least eight wide receivers playing per game guarantees a high volume of passing, but the inevitable question with this infusion of air raid is how will it impact Oklahoma’s deep and talented roster of running backs?

A rare bright spot in Oklahoma’s 2014 offense was the play of true freshman Samaje Perine. Perine rushed for 1,713 yards, including a record 427 in a win over Kansas, and scored multiple touchdowns five times en route to 21 on the season.

Frankly, Perine produced numbers worthy of an invitation to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation, had Oklahoma had a better season.

Perine garnered the carries that might otherwise have gone to highly touted freshman Joe Mixon. Mixon was suspended before the season for punching a young woman in the face during an altercation.

Mixon is back with the Sooners — the merit of his reinstatement is a topic for another time. All that is germane to this particular conversation is that Oklahoma now has two sophomore running backs capable of leading the Big 12 in rushing sharing the backfield.

Lincoln Riley may be part of the Mike Leach coaching tree, but he’s not Mike Leach, whose Washington State teams ranked dead-last in the nation in rushing every year he’s been on the Palouse.

In his time as offensive coordinator under East Carolina’s Ruffin McNeill, another former Leach assistant, Riley cultivated a style more akin to that of Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin or Baylor’s Art Briles. And that bodes well for Oklahoma’s running backs.

To wit, East Carolina boasted the nation’ third-most prolific passing offense in 2014 behind NFL-bound quarterback Shane Carden. Carden surpassed 4,000 yards passing his junior and senior season, even flirting with 5,000 yards last year.

And yet, while racking up those gaudy aerial numbers, East Carolina accrued respectable totals of 1,821 rushing yards in 2013 and 2,094 last season. Riley got the ball in running back Vintavious Cooper’s hands 230 times in 2013 — that’s just 33 fewer times than Samaje Perine rushed in 2014.

An air-raid influenced offense won’t take opportunities away from Perine, and keeping Perine’s workload steady won’t take touches away from Mixon or junior Alex Ross, who scored twice in the spring game.

So how will the Sooners pass more than last year’s 386 times without cutting too much into the 557-carry load the run game carried? Simply put, it’s the Lincoln Riley stimulus package. His ability to generate more plays means

The 2014 Sooners ran 943 plays, ranking right near the middle for all FBS football programs. Look for Oklahoma to take upwards of 1,100 snaps in 2014, putting it in league with Arizona (1,139), Baylor (1,138), Oregon (1,118) and even exceeding Lincoln Riley’s East Carolina Pirates (1,070).

With the tempo heightened and defenses struggling to adjust on the fly, Perine should actually be able to break off longer runs. That’s a scary thought, given he averaged 6.5 yards per carry in 2014.