Backup QBs decide big games for OU, PSU

Oklahoma quarterback Caleb Williams (13) puts on the Golden Hat after coming off the bench to lead Oklahoma to a 54-48 win over Texas Saturday. (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)

The two biggest games of the college football weekend were decided by backup quarterbacks.

No. 6 Oklahoma remained unbeaten Saturday behind freshman Caleb Williams, who rallied the Sooners from three scores down in the second half against No. 21 Texas.


The highest-scoring game ever between the Red River rivals might have birthed a new star and relegated preseason Heisman Trophy hopeful Spencer Rattler to second string.

In Iowa City, No. 4 Penn State controlled the first half against the third-ranked Hawkeyes, but lost quarterback Sean Clifford to an undisclosed injury for the entire second half and couldn’t hold on without him.

Oklahoma’s saga seems like something we have never seen before in college football.

Rattler came into the season as the presumptive Heisman favorite, a prospective first-round NFL draft pick and one of the most marketable players in the country in this first season that college athletes can be paid endorsers.

Last month, the third-year sophomore was given two cars by a local dealership as part of a deal for use of his name, image and likeness.

Rattler has cashed in off the field, but been only solid on it. Coming into the Saturday, he was completing 76% of his passes, with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions.

Rattler looked rattled against the Longhorns as Texas raced out to a 21-point first-quarter lead.

Williams is the five-star recruit from Washington D.C., who OU fans were chanting for a few weeks ago as the offense sputtered in a low-scoring home victory over West Virginia.

More of a dual-threat, Williams has been used to supplement OU’s offense, which has lacked explosive plays with Rattler.

Williams broke a 66-yard touchdown run the first half and then coach Lincoln Riley turned over the offense to him in the second half.

With Williams, the offense suddenly looked like recent units led by Heisman winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray that put up video-game numbers.

Williams passed for 212 yards. He was spectacular at times and looked a little like a freshman in the biggest game of his life at other times.

But Rattler wasn’t done for the day. He came in on a 2-point conversion halfway through the fourth quarter and connected with Drake Stoops to make it 41-all.

“I had confidence in both of my guys or I wouldn’t have put Caleb in the game for long stretches and I wouldn’t have put Spencer in on the most important play of the game,” Riley said.

It appears Riley has a quarterback controversy on his hands for the first time in his career. After the game, he declined to commit to a starter next week against TCU.

He also declined to let Williams do a quick postgame interview with ESPN sideline reporter Holly Rowe. Riley’s policy is freshman don’t speak to the media, which seems even more silly in the day and age of NIL.

Having a quarterback capable of coming off the bench to win a game is becoming more rare in college football. Experienced players tend to transfer out, looking for playing time and leaving a lot of teams with backups that leave a lot to be desired.

Not everyone is as lucky as Oklahoma to have a player as good as Williams, who can make up for not knowing exactly what he is doing by being one of the most talented players on the field.

That was the case for Penn State. The Nittany Lions lost backup Will Levis to the transfer portal in the offseason. He is now the starter at Kentucky.

Penn State coach James Franklin tried to find a graduate transfer to fill out a thin depth chart. LSU’s T.J. Finely decided to go to Auburn instead of Happy Valley, and that has left Penn State with Ta’Quan Roberson behind Clifford.

Roberson is a 5-foot-11 sophomore who was a borderline four-star prospect out of high school. Maybe in another setting, and not on the road against one of the best defenses in the country, Roberson could have managed the situation.

Against the Hawkeyes, Penn State could barely get a snap off cleanly and managed only three points in the second half.

“We didn’t have an issue with the crowd noise until we lost Sean,” Penn State coach James Franklin said..

Offense continues to be a grind for Iowa, but the Hawkeyes are unbeaten with nothing but Big Ten West opponents left on the schedule. If you haven’t noticed, outside of Iowa, there is not a ton to get excited about in the Big Ten West.

While Oklahoma deciphers which quarterback to play, Penn State will hope an open week followed by a trip to Illinois will be enough to get Clifford back to full health.

Games against No. 7 Ohio State, No. 9 Michigan and No. 11 Michigan State loom. With Clifford, the Nittany Lions are still Big Ten contenders.

Without him … maybe they could make a trade for Rattler?

AROUND THE COUNTRY: There has been a lot of justifiable love for Texas’ Bijan Robinson, but Michigan State’s Kenneth Walker III is probably the top Heisman contender among running backs right now. Walker had 233 yards, including a school-record 94-yard run, as the Spartans improved to 6-0 against Rutgers. … Among second-year coaches, only Michigan State’s Mel Tucker has done a better job of turning around a team than Baylor’s Dave Aranda. The Bears went 2-7 in 2020 and Aranda, a long-time successful defensive coordinator, seemed overmatched. Credit to Aranda for quickly changing offensive coordinators, bringing in Jeff Grimes from BYU to replace Larry Fedora. The Bears pounded West Virginia to improve to 5-1. … Encouraging sign for Tennessee in Year 1 under coach Josh Heupel: The Volunteers (4-2) have scored at least 40 points in back-to-back SEC games for the first time since 2016. It will get much tougher than Missouri and South Carolina, but bowl eligibility is in sight. .. We can put away all the “What if BYU goes unbeaten?” conversations after four turnovers against Boise State. … Most disappointing team in the country? How about preseason No. 10 North Carolina? Tar Heels coach Mack Brown is now 0-11 against Florida State.

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