Lincoln Riley reveals how culture-building takes place inside a college football program

Recent remarks by Lincoln Riley show how a culture gets changed from soft to tough, from sloppy to accountable, from lazy to disciplined. #USC

On a broad and very general level, one can see that Lincoln Riley is earning high marks as USC head coach. Crucially, he isn’t always hitting the target as a play-caller, as shown against Oregon State. Yet, the Trojans still won that game. Riley the play-caller has been good this year. Riley the leader has been great, getting all these transfers and new faces to play well as a group. Riley’s assistant coaches, most notably defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, have done well in bringing players along and creation cohesion on the roster.

We can all see this is what a winning culture looks like, the kind of culture many skeptics felt USC wouldn’t be able to develop in Year 1 of Riley’s tenure. How has this all come together so quickly?

Riley offered some insights when answering questions from assembled media earlier this week. He discussed his approach to playing receivers and non-QB skill position players:

Riley noted how Travis Dye has been a central helper of the coaching staff in building culture and setting an example for teammates in the locker room and on the field:

Riley then emphasized the importance of his role — not in micro-managing players himself, but in making sure his coaches are coaching their position groups the right way, so that the caliber of instruction in all phases of play is up to standard:

This is how culture is built. So far, it’s a winning formula for Lincoln Riley at USC.

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Early in the season, separating what’s real from what’s false is a key challenge for Lincoln Riley

On one hand, #USC yards per play increase without a tight end. On the other hand, Lake McRee has been a good player. What to do? This is why Lincoln Riley gets paid a lot.

You think coaching is easy? Try this scenario within the USC football program as the 2022 season approaches its midway point.

Per Shotgun Spratling of 247Sports, USC’s yards per play average was 8.2 against Arizona State when a tight end was not on the field, just 6.1 when a tight end was on the field.

On the other hand, Lake McRee has been a good player for USC this season at the tight end spot. Run blocking and safety-valve pass catching have helped Travis Dye, Caleb Williams, and the rest of the USC offense. McRee has made himself a useful player, and he is in line to play against Washington State in Week 6.

So, Lincoln Riley: How often are you going to put McRee and other tight ends on the field against Wazzu? This is the kind of decision a coach has to handle the right way. Obviously a tight end is going to be shown to an opposing defense so that it has to account for that position. Obviously, yards per play doesn’t mean everything, because if a 3rd and 1 play gets two yards, it is a successful play. Nevertheless, if one position affects yards per play over several dozen snaps, it forces Riley to pick his spots in terms of tight end usage, and to get Washington State to focus on the tight end in ways which could open up the field for other skill position players.

The other obvious point here: Arizona State was one game with a banged up offensive line. We’re still early in the season. What’s real and what’s false about this statistic? Lincoln Riley needs to answer that question in formulating his play sequences and overall line of attack.

This is what he gets paid for.

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Social Media Reacts to the TCU Horned Frogs domination of the Oklahoma Sooners

It was a terrible day in Fort Worth for the Oklahoma Sooners, getting blowout by the TCU Horned Frogs 55-24 in a game that was never close.

All week long, the discussion in the aftermath of their loss to Kansas State was focused on how the Oklahoma Sooners would respond in their matchup with TCU.

They did not respond well.

Marvin Mims fumbled on Oklahoma’s first possession, and TCU scored right away to make it 7-0. Oklahoma would respond with a field goal on their third possession, but TCU wouldn’t slow down one bit, jumping out to a 20-3 lead and up 27-10 by the end of the first quarter. The Sooners had a chance to close it to 10 points, but Dillon Gabriel was knocked out of the game when he was hit in the head after sliding. And Davis Beville couldn’t get much done through the air to help bring Oklahoma back from such a huge deficit.

Oklahoma couldn’t do anything on either side of the ball. The passing game struggled to find any consistency, and the defense couldn’t slow down the TCU Horned Frogs’ big-play machine.

TCU scored touchdowns of 73, 67, and 62 yards in the first half, completing exposing holes in the Sooners’ defense. Even as they were rushing just three or four and dropping a lot of players into coverage, the Oklahoma Sooners were allowing Horned Frogs players to run wide open down the field.

It’s incredible how poor Oklahoma played on both sides of the football. They didn’t tackle well andt hey didn’t cover well. There were opportunities for Oklahoma to make plays on the football, but they either didn’t look back at the ball, or it went right through their hands, as it did with DeShaun White at the end of the first half.

It was a terribly disappointing performance once again from the Oklahoma Sooners, and it left Oklahoma fans cringing. The college football world, on the other hand, was giddy at the Sooners’ downfall.

Here’s how social media reacted to the TCU Horned Frogs’ domination of the Oklahoma Sooners.

USC hosts star-studded lineup of 2023 prospects for Arizona State game

#USC is gearing up for a big recruiting weekend against Arizona State.

USC’s 2023 recruiting class sits at No.14 nationally and second in the Pac-12 behind rival Oregon.

USC’s 2023 class could end the year in the top 10 or maybe even higher. The class consists of 17 pledges.

This is a big hosting weekend for the Trojans in a game versus Arizona State; all the top names in the USC 2023 class will be in attendance.

Former Notre Dame commit, ofensive lineman Elijah Paige, and defensive lineman (and Virgina native) Elijah Hughes are on official visits this weekend and would be huge gets for the Trojans.

USC needs depth in the trenches and these prospects will add that next season and beyond if Lincoln Riley can close the sale with them.

Riley and his staff at USC have placed the Trojans in a great spot for the future with top-10 2024 and 2025 classes as well.

Recruits are going to see a USC victory over Arizona State, barring something crazy. The Trojans are fully expected to move to 5-0 on the season before two defining games against Washington State and Utah before a much-needed week of rest and a day off on Oct. 22.

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By the Numbers: No. 16 Oklahoma Sooners at TCU Horned Frogs

How do the Oklahoma Sooners and the TCU Horned Frogs stack up statistically heading into their matchup in Norman?

The Oklahoma Sooners (3-1, 0-1 Big 12) head to Fort Worth to take on the TCU Horned Frogs (3-0, 0-0) in a critical Big 12 matchup this Saturday at 11 a.m. CT

The Sooners look to rebound from a frustrating loss at the hands of Adrian Martinez and the Kansas State Wildcats. The hope is a renewed focus on the defensive details will help the Sooners bounce back against a team they’ve had little trouble with over the last decade.

The Sooners hold a 17-5 all-time record against TCU, according to Winsipedia.

Oklahoma has won eight straight against the Horned Frogs and are 10-1 since TCU joined the Big 12. The Sooners have won five of their last six games by at 18 points or more.

None of that really matters though in a new season.

This game takes on a different tenor than previous matchups. Sonny Dykes and Brent Venables bring a focus on the opposite side of the ball than their predecessors.

Both teams are still trying to figure out how good they actually are. The Horned Frogs’ biggest test thus far was their road win over SMU. Oklahoma failed to pass its biggest test to date in its loss to Kansas State.

As we get ready for Saturday, let’s take a look at the Week 5 showdown with this week’s By the Numbers.

Lincoln Riley’s challenge against Arizona State: winning the season, not just a game

It won’t be hard for USC to beat Arizona State. It will be hard for Lincoln Riley to balance and juggle several priorities as offensive play-caller.

The USC Trojans are huge favorites over Arizona State, and they should be. Arizona State lost at home to Eastern Michigan and then lost by 21 at home to Utah. The Sun Devils are a mess of a team under an interim head coach with a depleted roster. They lost multiple star players in the transfer portal, one of them being Eric Gentry, who has become USC’s defensive MVP through one month of the season. Their offensive and defensive lines are the weaker parts of their roster, which makes them a team which is unlikely to hurt USC.

The Trojans should not sweat this game. This contest is very unlikely to be close in the fourth quarter. Winning this game should not be a huge challenge, or any sort of challenge, for USC.

This game does, however, present a challenge to Lincoln Riley: Can he coach this game as part of a longer season and not as a one-game moment following a subpar performance from him and his offense?

After a bad game, any competitor naturally wants to fix everything.

USC couldn’t throw well against Oregon State, so it’s a natural instinct to want to fix the passing game. USC didn’t score a lot against Oregon State, so it’s human nature to want to see the Trojans score 40 or 50 points. USC didn’t hit deep downfield passes against Oregon State, so it’s normal to want to hit 60-yard passes against Arizona State and feel powerful on offense again.

Yet, Lincoln Riley can’t coach that way.

Washington State comes after the ASU game on Oct. 8. Then comes Utah on Oct. 15. Those are important and challenging games.

Arizona State, coming right after the draining Oregon State game, is a time for USC to not chase style points or big numbers. That shouldn’t be necessary.

This is not an idle week for USC, but playing ASU is close to an idle week. It’s an easy opponent which shouldn’t require too much stress or game pressure.

This is a time for Riley to focus less on fixing the passing game, and more on getting players healthy for Washington State and Utah. He needs to worry less about scoring tons of points and recapturing the beautiful offense we saw earlier in the season. We all want to see that every week, but against Arizona State, the much bigger priority is to manage his roster, make the game minimally taxing, and reduce the odds that key offensive players will be hurt.

Riley generally wants to lengthen a game, give his offense more possessions, and be aggressive with his offense. This is a time to shorten the game, reduce possessions, and shepherd a banged-up offensive line through 60 minutes with minimal strain. This means fewer passes — not as a tactic to beat Arizona State, but as a way of reducing the burden on his O-line heading into the Washington State-Utah double-stack of games which will be extremely important (and a lot more difficult than Arizona State).

If USC scores just 30 points and cruises to an unimpressive 30-13 win, it will be easy for fans to think the team and the offense are not in a good place. The truth of the matter is that after the draining Oregon State game, playing ASU gives USC a chance to downshift and not go full throttle.

The team needs that. It doesn’t need to chase the style points this week.

Get everyone healthy. Do just enough to win without too much drama or difficulty. Then prepare for Washington State with a full playbook and a much healthier offensive line.

Get a 17-point lead. Then put in Mason Murphy in place of Bobby Haskins at left tackle and spend the second half handing the ball off.

It’s not Lincoln Riley’s job to entertain fans every week. It’s his job to win Pac-12 championships. The big goal is the season, not one game against a really bad opponent.

Riley has to resist the temptation to look good each week, and focus on the goal of managing this roster for a 12-game grind.

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Comparing USC’s 2022 receivers to Oklahoma’s best WRs under Lincoln Riley

Jordan Addison is what Sterling Shepard was. Mario Williams fits Dede Westbrook’s role. It’s fun to connect receivers at Oklahoma and USC.

On The Riley Files, Oklahoma insider Kegan Reneau made fascinating comparisons between former Oklahoma receivers within Lincoln Riley’s offense, and the current crop of 2022 receivers at USC.

“There’s a lot in terms of Graham Harrell at USC that I really like, and there’s other things that I don’t like,” Reneau said. “I would imagine you’re gonna see (at USC under Riley) something very similar to the 2016 offense that Oklahoma had, which ended up becoming the top offense in college football in 2016, where you have a guy like DeDe Westbrook. They really just attack by using him vertically. They’ve got Jordan Addison, who reminds me a lot of what Sterling Shepard was like in college. Then you’ve got Mario Williams, who can play that DeDe Westbrook role. You have that 2015 kind of personnel besides the running backs. I would imagine you’re gonna see a little bit of it.

“This is gonna be more akin to what you saw in 2016 and 2017. They were very, very innovative and very, very good. I expect the offense at USC to be very tough to slow down here in 2022.”

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Riley Files: Lincoln Riley’s offense has built-in components which help everyone

A Lincoln Riley offense has structures and concepts which make life easier for the QB and everyone else. Our Oklahoma insider explained this reality.

On The Riley Files, Oklahoma insider Kegan Reneau looked at USC’s offense and unpacked the specific idea that a Lincoln Riley offense has built-in options to help the quarterback and everyone else in the offensive unit.

“You look at the way that roster’s constructed for this upcoming season. That offense, they’re relying upon two newcomers. You have a guy like Justin Dedich at right guard. That offense is gonna be fun. Will they throw it a ton? I think they’re about to throw it a ton. That 2015 (Oklahoma) offense, whenever I mention that Air Raid-y offense, there was the screen game, the running back screen game, a ton of mesh concepts, a ton of stuff which was quick, easy out throws for Baker Mayfield.

“It was not nearly as complex as the 2016 and 2017 offense. It also helps when you got a guy named Joe Mixon and, and another guy named Samaje Perine that run the football. They (OU/Riley) ran the football in 2015 as well as anybody. I don’t envision that being the case (at USC). I expect them to throw the football a ton. The Air Raid part of Graham Harrell’s system meant they didn’t have answers for when teams brought tons of pressure, like on 3rd and 8. And when you don’t leave safety valves for Kedon Slovis behind an offensive line that was cratering in front of him, there’s gonna be problems and there’s gonna be problems when you’re not running.”

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Lincoln Riley hopes he will never have to answer specific questions at USC

If Lincoln Riley puts all the pieces together in the early stages of his USC tenure, he likely won’t have to grapple with uncomfortable scenarios.

On The Riley Files, Oklahoma insider Kegan Reneau acknowledged Alex Grinch’s strengths as a defensive coordinator while also noting that he has a high bar to clear. If he doesn’t clear that bar, what happens then for Lincoln Riley at USC?

“One thing that does benefit Grinch is that he’s always taken under-talented defenses or less talented defenses and been really good with them. I think USC fans were ready to run Todd Orlando — they should have been out of the building a year ago, or even prior to that. It’s not very dissimilar to what Alex Grinch is coming with to USC in 2022.

“If crap hits the fan in Southern California, does Lincoln have it in him to move on from some of the people that he has been the most loyal to over the last couple years, and when does that happen? When does that moment of truth occur? Will he feel that pressure earlier or later, and how much rope will he personally feel on the job? That’s a very compelling question.”

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Lincoln Riley’s handling of assistant Roy Manning shows attention to certain details

It is very notable that Roy Manning is not coaching cornerbacks at #USC. Lincoln Riley seems to have made a smart move here.

On The Riley Files, Oklahoma insider Kegan Reneau said that Roy Manning did not develop the Sooners’ cornerbacks especially well under Alex Grinch.

It is therefore notable that Manning is coaching linebackers at USC.

“There was a lot of angst about Roy Manning after he left, because he was doing all the videos and the corners weren’t developing. It was one of the worst positions on the field,” Reneau said. “They (OU fans) did like Alex Grinch at the end of his time. I get why.

“I personally think Oklahoma had very few weak links on staff. I think you hear from OU fans that they’ve upgraded everywhere (under new coach Brent Venables). I don’t think that’s true. Lincoln Riley’s in the equation as an offensive coordinator. It’s a downgrade regardless. At defensive coordinator, if you want to give Brent Venables the DC title, they probably upgraded there. On the corners (cornerbacks), they’re right, though.

“The corners just did not develop the last two to three years, and you look at Alex Grinch’s position at safeties, the guys that they had recruited. OU fans called all of Mike Stoops guys. They gave him a lot of hell over that. But Tre Norwood and Tre Brown and Kenneth Murray and all those guys seemed to develop and play well under Grinch. Then it’s the guys that they were recruiting, the Joshua Eatons and the Bryson Washingtons of the world that were heralded recruits at the time. They just were not seeing playing time early in their careers at OU for whatever reason.”

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