Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley knows a bit about what Sonny Cumbie is going through this week.
When Mike Leach, Riley’s mentor, was fired by Texas Tech in December 2009 just a few days before the Red Raiders were to play in the Alamo Bowl, Riley had to collect himself quickly. Riley was elevated to offensive coordinator for that game, calling plays for the first time.
Now Cumbie, who was a graduate assistant back then for the Red Raiders, will make his head coaching debut against the No. 4 Sooners when Texas Tech visits Oklahoma on Saturday.
Cumbie was named the Red Raiders’ interim coach Monday after Matt Wells was fired in the middle of his third season at the helm.
Cumbie returned to his alma mater this season after spending seven seasons as an assistant coach at TCU.
The Red Raiders (5-3, 2-3 Big 12) have dropped three of their last five, including a 25-24 home loss to Kansas State last week where they were held scoreless after halftime.
“It’s very unfortunate, the circumstances,” Cumbie said. “We had no control over that other than you feel like you let Coach Wells down in terms of not winning enough games or playing well enough on offense.
“That’s our job right now is to lead them as well as we can, make the most of every situation that comes our way.”
Right now, Riley’s Sooners (8-0, 5-0) are the first step in front of Texas Tech.
Oklahoma is 8-0 for the first time since 2004, but there are plenty of questions swirling around the team, especially after last week’s closer-than-expected 35-23 win over Kansas in a game the Sooners were trailing in the fourth quarter.
Early in the season, Riley insisted Oklahoma was close to breaking through offensively when that group struggled and needed the defense to lead the way.
Now, it’s the defense that has struggled in recent weeks — especially when it comes to getting a push up front and in coverage.
Riley now has similar words about the defense.
“I see no reason why this defense cannot play very well the back half of the season,” Riley said. “I see some things starting to come together that give me a high sense of confidence that it’s going to get done.”
A big part of those recent struggles — though not all — have been a spate of injuries, especially in the secondary.
The Sooners were without both starting cornerbacks last week after D.J. Graham missed the game to go along with Woodi Washington being out since early in the season. Safety Delarrin Turner-Yell has played just one play over the last four games, dressing out but not appearing in last week’s win.
“Gosh (darn), we’re close. We’re so close. Like, we’re agonizingly close and again, the mistakes, the things that have hurt us, the times that people have moved it for the most part have been our errors,” Riley said. “It’s not just guys getting beat or guys not doing this or the capability’s not there. So you feel like it’s very correctable.”
But the time to correct those issues is dwindling, especially with a three-game stretch against three ranked opponents — Baylor, Iowa State and Oklahoma State — coming up after a bye week.
Though Riley anticipates at least a few of those injured defensive players to return against the Red Raiders, Texas Tech’s defense figures to be without quite a few rotational players. Cumbie said defensive tackle Tony Bradford, linebacker Jacob Morgenstern and safeties Adrian Frye and Reggie Pearson would be out against Oklahoma.
The Sooners have won nine consecutive games against the Red Raiders, whose last win in the series came in 2011, when an unranked Tech team knocked off then-No. 3 Oklahoma in Norman, with Cumbie coaching the Red Raiders’ inside receivers.
–Field Level Media