How is Samaje Perine going to get enough touches?
That was the immediate question when Bob Stoops picked Lincoln Riley to run Oklahoma’s offense. Riley’s philosophy didn’t seem to be the ideal fit for an offense that looked poised to be built around the sophomore running back.
A closer look at Riley’s time at East Carolina shows that his best offenses had balance. Here’s a year-by-year look at Riley’s five seasons with the help of ESPN Stats & Information:
2010: 2.65 points per drive, 5.74 yards per play, 43.1 third-down conversion rate, 65.4 pass percentage (percent of total plays which are passes), 15 turnover percentage (percent of drives ending with a turnover).
Summary: In his first season as an offensive coordinator, Riley entered the year with junior college transfer Dominique Davis at quarterback and a returning all-conference receiver in Dwayne Harris. Riley built the offense around Davis -- who finished with 3,967 passing yards, 37 touchdowns and 16 interceptions -- and Harris, who eclipsed the 100-catch mark with 101 receptions for 1,123 yards and 10 touchdowns. Lance Lewis (89 receptions, 1,116 yards, 14 TDs) joined Harris to give ECU one of the best receiving combos in the nation. Running back Jonathan Williams led the Pirates with 154 carries for 847 yards and 10 touchdowns while adding 52 receptions for 431 yards and another score. ECU rushed for 1,542 yards and passed for 4,143 yards in Riley’s first season.
What it could mean for OU: Much like OU, Riley didn’t have an unquestioned, established quarterback to run his offense when he arrived but he did have an returning all-conference receiver. Sterling Shepard could easily see his 2014 receptions (51) double while becoming the top target. And Williams' numbers are a clear sign that Riley aimed to get the ball in the hands of his running back, through the air or on the ground. Perine will be asked to get more involved as a receiver while running back Joe Mixon and Keith Ford could have Riley really exploit their versatility as runners and receivers.
2011: 2.06 points per drive, 5.15 yards per play, 46.1 third-down conversion rate, 60.2 pass percentage, 20.9 turnover percentage.
Summary: Easily Riley’s worst season as turnovers became a problem for ECU’s offense. Davis returned but his touchdowns went down (25) while his interceptions went up (19). And when Riley turned to the running game it struggled to get going, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry while finishing with 1,309 rushing yards on 397 total attempts. No ECU running back averaged more than 4.51 yards per carry or gained more than 500 rushing yards. Riley’s offense finished with 35 turnovers in 12 games. ECU rushed for 1,309 yards and passed for 3,433 yards in Riley’s second season.
What it could mean for OU: Anything similar to this production would be a nightmare for Bob Stoops' new hire. The turnovers in particular would have the potential to cripple any hopes for title contention as Riley would have to rein in the offense, thus limiting its explosive nature. The most important thing for Riley’s offense in 2015 will be to protect the ball, which did wonders for TCU’s offensive rebirth in 2014.
2012: 2.24 points per drive, 5.61 yards per play, 42.9 third-down conversion rate, 54.6 pass percentage, 12.2 turnover percentage.
Summary: The Pirates went out an added junior college running back Vintavious Cooper to bring balance to the offense and he responded with 1,049 rushing yards on 5.2 yards per carry. He had 226 touches in 13 games, an average of 17.4 touches per game. At quarterback Shane Carden took over after a couple of years as Davis’ understudy and immediately took better care of the football (10 interceptions) while completing 66.1 percent of his throws for 3,116 yards. Justin Hardy emerged as a legit No. 1 target with 86 receptions for 1,105 yards and 11 receptions as a sophomore.
What it could mean for OU: Balance returned to ECU’s offense when Riley had a running back he could count on. The balance, combined with Carden’s ball protection and efficiency, made this one of Riley’s top offenses.
2013: 2.94 points per drive, 5.92 yards per play, 51 third-down conversion rate, 57.9 pass percentage, 9 turnover percentage.
Summary: ECU entered the season with one of the nation’s top quarterback-running back-receiver combos in Carden-Cooper-Hardy. Carden passed for 4,139 yards, 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions; Cooper rushed for 1,193 yards (5.2 ypc); and Hardy had 114 receptions for 1,294 yards. ECU passed for 4,265 yards and rushed for 1,821 yards.
What it could mean for OU: When Riley had the tools to create a balanced, efficient offense, he built the best offense of his tenure at ECU. He had a quality, experienced quarterback and receiver combo yet made sure to get his talented running back involved, even making him a key part of the passing game (Cooper had 44 receptions for 412 yards as ECU’s third-leading receiver). OU is an experienced and consistent quarterback away from this scenario heading into the spring.
2014: 2.57 points per drive, 6.48 yards per play, 47.4 third-down conversion rate, 62.5 pass percentage, 11.9 turnover percentage.
Summary: With Cooper moving on, Riley really leaned on Carden and Hardy. Carden passed for 4,736 yards while Hardy had 121 receptions for 1,494 yards. The argument could definitely be made that running back Breon Allen, who had 134 carries for 869 yards (6.5) and eight touchdowns, should have gotten the ball more but that would require taking the ball out of the hands of Carden and Hardy, particularly since Carden never had more than 10 interceptions during his three years as the starter.
What it could mean for OU: Quite frankly it underscores the importance of finding a quarterback who makes good decisions to trigger Riley’s offense. Baker Mayfield seems the like the favorite with his experience in similar offenses but Trevor Knight and Cody Thomas have won Big 12 games and possess the talent to excel in the system.