Iowa State coach Matt Campbell is preparing for a more mature version of Oklahoma freshman quarterback Spencer Rattler in the Big 12 championship game than the one his Cyclones beat in October.
Rattler was only in his third start when the Sooners and Cyclones met the first time. He had his moments, but he threw a late interception that helped Iowa State hang on for a 37-30 win.
Since then, the Sooners have won six straight and Rattler has only thrown three interceptions while becoming one of the nation’s top quarterbacks. Campbell's eighth-ranked Cyclones (8-2) face Oklahoma (7-2) on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Campbell said Rattler was bound to improve under the tutelage of coach Lincoln Riley. After all, Riley’s previous three quarterbacks -- Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts -- all are starters in the NFL. Mayfield and Murray won Heisman trophies and Hurts was the runner-up.
“You take elite talent, and then you take a guy like coach Riley, who’s done as good a job as anybody, maybe in our sport, of developing the quarterback position -- I think what you get is a proven track record of excellence,” Campbell said. “That’s what you’ve seen, really, with a really talented young quarterback is his growth through the entirety of the season.”
Rattler led the Big 12 in conference with a 165.5 passer rating and 277.8 yards passing per game, and he was tied with Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger with 20 touchdown passes.
Rattler’s talent was known. He was the consensus No. 1 quarterback nationally in the 2019 recruiting class and the Big 12’s Preseason Newcomer of the Year.
He hit some rough patches early in the season. Oklahoma's offensive line struggled with COVID-19-related depth issues, exposing Rattler's inexperience at the college level.
Oklahoma tight end/H-back Jeremiah Hall is impressed with the way Rattler has handled it all.
“The way that he has developed into his own role, his own mold is just impressive in itself, and I’m glad I’ve been a part it,” Hall said. “And I’m looking to forward to what he does in the future. I'm proud of him, not only as a teammate, but even if I was a fan, or just any person watching football in general.”
In his worst outing, Rattler threw three interceptions against Kansas State in a 38-31 loss. He struggled early against Texas and briefly was replaced by Tanner Mordecai. He bounced back and found Drake Stoops for the game-winning touchdown as the Sooners prevailed 53-45 in four overtimes.
“My goal has been to reset my mind after every play and kind of take a deep breath after a good play or a bad play,” Rattler said as he prepared to play TCU. “Shake it off and keep going. We all have that same mentality of keep fighting and keep boxing, keep going at it. We’re not going to quit. We’re working on what we have to do and going forward with it.”
He’s been outstanding since. In his best performance, he passed for 301 yards and four touchdowns and ran for another score in a 41-13 win over rival Oklahoma State.
Rattler has learned to use his mobility to extend plays. He has been sacked just 11 times during the win streak.
“He’s always had a good feel for that,” Riley said. “When pressure’s coming, when he’s got to make a play under pressure, when he’s got to make a play outside the pocket, all that -- I think it’s one of his strengths as a player, and I think he’s just gotten better and better as the year’s went on.”
Rattler has spread the ball around. Freshman Marvin Mims leads the team with 482 yards and seven touchdowns. Theo Wease leads the way with 33 receptions and is second with 467 yards. Tight end/H-back Austin Stogner leads the team with 59 yards per game.
Charleston Rambo has 23 catches and has been steady. Stoops has 12 catches for 185 yards, with many being tough catches in traffic. Hall is second on the team with five touchdown receptions.
“I think it’s just such an overall deal for the quarterback,” Riley said. “It’s just -- he is improving as we go, there’s question in my mind. He is seeing things better as we go, without a doubt. I mean, making a lot of improvements that I expected he would make and growing each week.”
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP.