football Edit

Rattler's maturation says best is yet to come

The way Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler is talked about, you would assume he’s in his fourth or fifth year in the program.

Everybody knows the story by now. Recruited by head coach Lincoln Riley coming off Rattler’s freshman season in high school. Committed and locked in with OU before Rattler’s junior high school season.

OU fans had been waiting, no, salivating at the thought of Rattler coming to Norman and showing why he was the Golden Child.

The weight of expectations almost unheard of, but fully anticipated and you could argue fully embraced by the redshirt freshman.

Rattler knows. When you take pictures in the OU locker room with Heisman Trophy winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, he knew what he was stepping into.

When you’re considered a preseason Heisman contender without having ever started a game, again, Rattler knows.

And now wrapping up his first full season as starting quarterback with OU’s battle against Florida in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic, Rattler knows again all eyes will be on him.

“These are big moments. I mean, you go win a four-overtimer in the Red River game, you come here and play like he did and win the Big 12 championship here, I mean, these are big moments for a young guy and he's certainly not afraid of them,” said Riley after the Big 12 championship win. “He's going to, he's got so much room to grow and he's going to get, have a chance to really get better if he'll keep his head down and keep working. But for a redshirt freshman, this is a pretty darn good start.”

A darn good start that had one rocky moment. When you’re being lauded as the Next Big Thing as young as he was, reality can be distorted. Rattler didn’t carry himself around in an arrogant way like nothing could go wrong.

But if he ever did, he learned how quickly things can come crashing down.

After a blistering beginning vs. overmatched Missouri State, here came the problems. In back-to-back losses vs. Kansas State and at Iowa State, his final pass was an interception.

Now vs. Texas, back-to-back possessions resulted in turnovers on third downs, and the infamous ‘timeout’ as Rattler has phrased it.

“No, I've never been in that situation before,” Rattler said. “I think it was beneficial for me, kind of just opened my eyes up a little bit and not get too comfortable where I'm at. I think that game was just – the offense just started out bad, and I had a couple of mistakes in a big-time game.

“And I think with that just being my first real rivalry game, big-stage game in college, I think Coach Riley did a good job with kind of giving me like a "time-out," I guess you could say. I wouldn't call it a benching but just something to get a deep breath. I knew once I went back in, I was going to make plays and just play like I know how to.”

It was a bold move by Riley, but one he felt was necessary and never second-guessed. Rattler had 11 touchdowns and five interceptions in less than four games. After returning to OU-Texas in the second half and the four overtimes and beyond, he finished with 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions.

Message sent. Message received.

“He definitely takes an aggressive approach,” defensive lineman Ronnie Perkins said. “When you play as a defensive guy, you can't do nothing but respect that, especially from our quarterback, especially from a quarterback. We love it. He plays great football. He leads the team great.”

All the individual numbers are great, but there’s one number that tells the story better than anything else.

It’s seven wins in a row. It’s 18 combined touchdowns and two turnovers and saving a 1-2 season from disaster and still hoisting the Big 12 trophy. Playing clean in the 27-21 win vs. Iowa State to earn the sixth straight championship, with Riley praising Rattler as having his best game yet.

“Just being a leader, being a confident quarterback, you have to have that mindset,” Rattler said. “You can't let those little things shake you off, get you off path. You've still got to lead your guys. When it's time to step up, a big-time player has got to step up in a big-time game. So that's something I went by my whole life and continue to improve on and continue to work on.”

OU didn’t want those back-to-back losses. Of course, Rattler didn’t either. You could make a compelling case, though, that the Rattler of the second half of the season doesn’t mature and grow into who he is without the trials and tribulations of the first half.

The miscues untimely, the results not there. In the end, however, all worth it for who Rattler is now and for what OU can do moving forward with him at the helm.

“Being a confident player coming into it, you're a confident guy, you think there's not going to be that many growing pains, not having to go through all of that throughout high school and youth ball and all that stuff,” Rattler said. “But at this level, at this stage, you've got to be prepared. You have to have a great preparation, great mindset. I think going through all these games, all these situations, all this adversity has helped me grow tremendously.”