Lincoln Riley says the Sooners healed up well during the bye week, with a couple of notable exceptions.
“We're better. We're better than we've been,” said Riley during his weekly press luncheon. “Will Johnson, we expect him back. Robert Barnes back, Cody Ford back. We'll get Amani Bledsoe back off of his suspension, so be excited to get him back.”
“Matt Romar will still end up being a game-time decision,” announced Riley. “We'll see how that plays out through the week but not ready to say one way or the other.”
The one player who has been ruled out for the week is a key reserve for the Sooners. Backup linebacker Curtis Bolton was hurt against Baylor and did not return during the second half.
“I did want to announce that Curtis Bolton is going to have to have ankle surgery,” reported Riley. “He'll miss the season.”
Bolton played a key role as the backup to virtually every linebacker position on the field. He was also being used as a pass rushing specialist at the linebacker position.
With so few bodies at the linebacker position, the Sooners will have to look deeper into their roster for pass rushing options a well as backup linebacker options.
“Losing Curtis hurts us with some depth,” Riley said. “We’re gonna have to have some guys step up with that. Mark is one of those, Addison is one of those, Jon-Michael Terry. We got a few guys that are gonna have to step up and give us some depth.”
FOCUS ON THE DEFENSE
Since giving up 463 yards through the air to Baylor over a week ago, the focus on the bye week would seemingly be on fixing the problems in Mike Stoops’ secondary.
Riley spoke about that focus Monday.
“We’ve played pretty good, except for the Baylor game,” said riley. “We didn’t play our best game in the Baylor game. We have to play better. I think getting some of these pieces back is going to help. You see a little result of losing Will Johnson and Robert Barnes, and even Jordan Parker earlier in the year, you got less bodies.
“A lot of those guys are active on special teams as well. Guys that have taken a lot of reps maybe getting a little bit worn down in the Baylor game. Getting those guys back from a depth standpoint and on special teams will help.
“We’re making enough big plays, but we have to do our job. We have to do it in the framework of our defense and not stray from that.”
Iowa State junior Jocab Park has passed for over 1100 yards this season and ranks 33rd in the country in total passing yards.
The Cyclones also have one of the most productive receivers in the league in Allen Lazard.
“Lazard, we know plenty about him,” said Riley. “He's a great player, one of the best receivers in this league. They're going to challenge us. It's going to be a competitive football game.”
Even though the Sooners were off last weekend, Riley believes progress was made in the secondary that will allow them to handle the challenge of Iowa State’s passing game better than they handled Baylor’s.
“A lot of those guys have played a lot of ball. They understand it. They responded to the challenge,” he said. “It was really competitive with the whole team, especially between our wideouts and our DBs. I think we took some really good steps.”
THE RETURN OF BLEDSOE
Amani Bledsoe will return from his one year NCAA suspension this week against Iowa State.
It’s been a long road for Bledsoe, who even went so far as to sue the NCAA over the suspension.
But fans who are worried about Bledsoe being rusty needn’t worry too much. Even though suspended from game action, Bledsoe has been practicing full-time with the team.
“Even though he’s been on our scout team for the first several weeks of the season, we kept him in the defensive line meetings,” Riley explained of how he’s dealt with Bledsoe throughout this process. “ We kept him over with those guys for individual. We tried to keep him engaged defensively as much as we possibly could so there wouldn’t be as much of a learning curve when he got back.
“Based on what we’ve seen as coaches through the last week, I don’t think he’s behind at all. I think he’s successful and he had a chance to work against our guys, our offensive line, so I think he was getting some good physical work during that time as well.”
Bledsoe joins a defensive line that has been gaining in depth and experience since the loss of Matt Romar against Tulane.
Kenneth Mann and Du’Vonta Lampkin have been helping with depth behind Marquise Overton and Neville Gallimore. Now Bledsoe can provide even more depth and also challenge D.J. Ward opposite Obo Okoronkwo.