NORMAN — CeeDee Lamb dictated the kind of defense Texas tried to run last week in Dallas, and Lincoln Riley dictated what CeeDee Lamb did before every snap.
So in a way, the Oklahoma head coach put the Longhorns exactly where he wanted them.
“He just plays chess, not checkers, if you will,” Lamb said.
Indeed, Riley was a master on Saturday, and he did have some powerful pieces at his fingertips.
Lamb was like the chess queen, lining up literally everywhere, able to move in any direction, and leaving Longhorns in his wake like so many pawns.
Of Oklahoma’s 66 offensive plays, Riley called for pre-snap motion on 25 of them. Of those, he moved Lamb in motion 14 times.
Most of his motion came out of the slot from the short side of the field to the wide side. Many times Lamb lined up wider, up on the line of scrimmage. A few times he was wide, flanked into the backfield. Other times he was lined up flanked in a tight formation.
One time he even lined up at quarterback, took the snap and handed off.
“It was very beneficial for the team,” Lamb said. “Just trying to see what kind of defense Texas was in and seeing if we liked the matchup. Coach Riley did a great job of maneuvering me around on offense just trying to find ways for me to be active.”
Lamb finished with an OU-Texas record-tying 10 catches for 171 yards and scored three touchdowns. This week, Lamb was named Big 12 offensive player of the week, Earl Campbell Tyler Rose national player of the week, and Walter Camp Football Foundation national player of the week.
In the last two seasons, Riley utilized the speedy Marquise “Hollywood” Brown on end-arounds, jet sweeps and touch passes — much of it coming on pre-snap motion. Brown, now in the NFL, was fast enough to beat the defense to the corner.
Lamb’s role in the motion game looks much different.
“I feel like now that Hollywood’s gone a lot of teams are going to key on me, and coach Riley can use me for bait or just get me the ball,” Lamb said. “He’s done a great job up to this point by keeping me active and moving me around in the complete offense. Saturday you definitely got a glimpse of what he’s done with my ability.”
Lamb went in motion both behind quarterback Jalen Hurts as well as in front of him. The plays he motioned in front of Hurts were usually fake handoffs.
Lamb was in motion on some of the game’s biggest plays:
- His third-and-goal catch from the 9-yard line that set up his fourth down score came off motion behind the formation. He caught a swing pass from Hurts, cut through disheveled Texas tacklers and fought his way to the 1-yard line. He caught a TD on the next play — after feigning motion into the formation.
- Lamb’s 26-yard catch in the second quarter came off motion in front of Hurts, who faked a handoff to Lamb and found him wide open with another swing pass into the boundary.
- On his 51-yard TD catch in the third quarter, one play after motioning across for a fake handoff, Lamb motioned behind the formation as Hurts handed off to Rhamondre Stevenson. As Stevenson stopped, turned and flipped the ball back to Hurts, Lamb continued his wheel route up the sideline, where he was all alone in the Texas defense. He eventually zig-zagged through the Longhorn defense for a touchdown.
- And as Oklahoma was trying to either score again or drain the clock in the final minutes, Lamb motioned in front of Hurts, executed another fake handoff and, with Texas locked in man-to-man coverage, dragged his defender across the formation and out of position. Riley had called a handoff to Kennedy Brooks that exposed the space Lamb’s defender vacated, and Brooks ripped off a 42-yard run.
- On the next play, Riley called virtually the same play, this time with Charleston Rambo in motion and the handoff to Stevenson. The result was a 26-yard run. OU’s final touchdown with 4:19 to play gave the Sooners a 34-20 lead and all but sealed the victory.
“I think that’s CeeDee being CeeDee,” Brooks said. “He’s a talented dude. He’s worked for this and he stays working for this.”
Part of the idea behind so much motion is just window dressing, making the defense see or think one thing — and then doing something else entirely.
But another part is to isolate a talented offensive player on a less athletic defensive player. Offense is always seeking a favorable matchup — a mismatch.
“You just try to get a feel for what you see,” Lamb said. “If coach Riley sees someone bigger on me, then he’s going to give me a different route.”
“What you’re not able to do, you used the word: matchup,” said defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. “To always have eyes on him, or specific guys always have eyes on him, is darn near impossible. Especially understanding the ability of the quarterback to run and all the things they do offensively, it really puts defenses in a bind.
“We had, years ago, (Alabama’s) Amari Cooper in the SEC Championship Game, but they got a pretty good tailback, pretty good quarterback and all those things. So your initial gut says, ‘We’d better stop him, and the reality is … ‘How?’ And there is no how. There isn’t a how. So no, that’s a big strain on defenses.
“You’re trying to, as best you can, say, ‘OK, you have him,’ but who do you have him on, and when do you have him? You know? And that’s easier said than done.”
“You just have to have a plan,” said OU nickel back Brendan Radley-Hiles. “You have to have a plan for where he’s gonna end up. If he ends up on this side, this is what we’re gonna do, if he ends up on that side, this is what we’ll do. So just having a plan pre-snap will help you in those situations.
“But, CeeDee’s an awesome player.”
Riley used a lot of different motions. Rambo went in motion six times on the day. Riley also used tight end Lee Morris in motion once, ran Brooks out of the backfield once, sent H-back Jeremiah Hall out of the backfield, across the formation and back once. He also brought in both slot receivers as tight end once.
“It wasn’t just specifically (Lamb),” Riley said. “We had some motions in the game plan that we thought might help us in a few areas. Happened that, a couple of plays, the ball ended up getting in his hands. He’s a dynamic player, he’s tough to handle and anytime we’ve got guys like that, you know being able to move them around a little bit seems to help us.”
Riley’s game plan was clearly designed to move Lamb all over the board. In the end, it was Riley with the checkmate.
“I say it all the time: CeeDee Lamb is a great player and he’s an even better guy,” Hurts said. “You talk about the plays that he makes, the hard work he puts into this team and the investments that he makes, I think it was on full display. I think it will only get better for him.”
Formerly co-host of “Further Review” and “The Franchise Drive,” columnist John E. Hoover is a college football insider on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover co-hosts The Franchise “Inside OU” Podcast with Brady Trantham and Rufus Alexander, and the Locked oN Sooners podcast on the Locked oN Podcast Network. He also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his YouTube channel at YouTube.com/c/JohnHoover, and his personal page at johnehoover.com.