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Past Heisman QB Lincoln Riley Provides His Offensive Philosophy



Past Heisman QB Lincoln Riley Provides His Offensive Philosophy

Baker Mayfield knows a thing or two about his old coach’s offensive tactics.

When it was announced that Lincoln Riley, formerly the head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners, had been hired by the University of Southern California, fans knew that their offense was about to take a significant step forward.

In Riley’s first year as the Trojans’ head coach, USC averaged 41.4 points per game, the fifth-highest in college football. This season, their average of 53.6 points per game is the most by nearly a touchdown.

In contrast, in the 2021-22 season — the year before Riley came to LA — USC scored just 28.7 points per game, outside of the top 50 in NCAA football.

Since becoming a head coach at Oklahoma, a Lincoln Riley-coached team hasn’t finished outside the top 12 highest-scoring offenses.

Baker Mayfield, who played for Riley at Oklahoma and won the Heisman Trophy, knows how offensive-oriented the former quarterback’s teams always are.

“I guess the main point is he tries to score more points than everybody,” said Mayfield. “But, he doesn’t make it easy on himself.”

The problem that has arisen in several games for Riley, including College Football Playoff matches, has been that damn defense.

Since becoming a head coach, Riley’s best-performing defense in terms of points allowed per game ranked 34th overall. Across his seven seasons as a head coach, including his 50th-ranking defense this season, his team’s average rank is around 64th overall.

Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has been present for four of those seven seasons and has often drawn criticism for how his defense has performed on the field.

The USC team doesn’t need the defense to be a top-10 performing unit in college football to win games; they’ve shown they can win plenty without turning heads on defense.

Past Heisman QB Lincoln Riley Provides His Offensive Philosophy

But in the Trojans’ big games against high-powered offenses like Oregon and Washington, even just one or two key stops or turnovers could give Caleb Williams and the electric USC offense a chance to make a run at a national title.

That quarterback was Riley himself, at the time a sophomore at Muleshoe High School. The Mules were playing Palo Duro at Dick Bivins Stadium in Amarillo, Texas. And even though it was a scrimmage, and the play meaningless, none of that mattered in the moment to the 15-year-old QB with a competitive streak. Riley, who also played defensive end, chased the linebacker down the sideline until he caught him, then tackled him.

“I cleaned him up pretty good,” Riley says. They both went down hard. But when Riley tried to get up, he couldn’t feel his right arm. It was dislocated. “All busted up.”

Surgery didn’t heal the shoulder completely. And though Riley managed the Mules’ offense well enough throwing sidearm to lead Muleshoe to the state semifinals as a senior, “I was never the same thrower after that,” he says.

Twenty years later, Riley recalls this story from a leather couch framed by three giant Gothic arches in the middle of an ornate office the size of a hotel lobby. At either end of the couch, on wood tables, rest the two most recent Heisman Trophies, awarded to Riley’s past two quarterbacks. Kyler Murray’s is on his right, Baker Mayfield’s to his left.

Mind you, Riley’s not pulling an Uncle Rico, ruing what might have been if he could only fling that ol’ pigskin around like he used to. He’s marveling at how there’s no way he’d be on this couch, in this office, between these Heismans, if he hadn’t been “lucky” enough to destroy his shoulder, give up on his dreams and start chasing a different one.

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