ATLANTA — Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley didn’t play cat-and-mouse with reporters about the suspension status of players during his Peach Bowl arrival news conference on Monday.
Defensive end Ronnie Perkins, running back Rhamondre Stevenson and wide receiver Trejan Bridges will not play in Saturday’s College Football Playoff semifinal game, the OU coach confirmed after the first question of a 12-minute media session.
While multiple reports indicated the three players failed a drug test, Riley wouldn’t go that far into specifics.
“I don’t air guys’ dirty laundry out. You guys know me well enough,” Riley said. “They get that enough in this world. They won’t be available to play.”
A plan has likely been in place for more than a week rather than a few days.
“Honestly, in a way, this one is easier because you know,” Riley said. “You have to plan. You have to have contingencies. That’s our job. But certainly the more time you have to prepare for it at any point, the easier it is.
“I’m confident in the players that we have and the staff that we have that we’ll have a group out there that’s ready to play and a scheme that will give us a great chance to play well.”
LSU coach Ed Ogreron is aware of the news that came out of Norman last week, but isn’t letting it impact his team’s game preparation.
“I’m sure Coach Riley has the same saying. We have the ‘next man up’ theory. We play 11 men on the field, we fight like Tigers and we don’t blink,” Ogreron said during a Monday arrival news conference. “This is a top program and they do a great job recruiting. I’m sure the next guy is champing at the bit and they may have their best game.
“So we don’t even factor that in. We don’t say ‘hey this is going to be an advantage, this is not going to be an advantage.’ … it’s about us and the way we execute.”
The suspended players were allowed to travel with the team this week. They are also allowed to practice.
That was a Riley decision.
“Those guys won’t play for us on Saturday but they can do a lot of things offensively, defensively, special teams,” the OU coach said. “They’ve got to find a way to help this team win. It won’t be on Saturday, but they can certainly help us here through the week.”
Losing Perkins will be tough. The sophomore is the Sooners’ top pass rusher and has a team-high six sacks.
Riley said the defense is not “a one-man show” up front.
“Ronnie’s been a good player for us, but we’ve got a lot of good players up there. We’ve recruited a lot of good players, we’ve developed a lot of players,” Riley said. “Our production, if you look at the front, has been pretty even across the board and we’ve gotten it from a lot of different players.”
Added defensive lineman Neville Gallimore: “I have the most confidence in our group. It’s an opportunity for guys to step up. We’re going to do what we have to do.”
Stevenson’s absence also will be felt. After Trey Semon’s season-ending injury, Stevenson has been the primary backup to Kennedy Brooks.
Sophomore T.J. Pledger missed the first four games of 2019 with a hand injury. He only has eight carries for 62 yards this season.
Riley said he’s anxious for Pledger to get an opportunity to play.
He also pointed to LSU’s current situation at running back. Starter Clyde Edwards-Helaire is nursing a hamstring injury and his status is unknown for Saturday.
“To give them credit, it doesn’t look like a huge dropoff when the other ones are in. They’ve obviously recruited well, they’ve got some depth,” Riley said. “That’s key at this point. You’re gonna have guys get banged up, you’re gonna have things happen. A lot of times the four teams who are here are here because, yeah, your first 11 are pretty good, but most of the times we’ve got some quality depth behind and we’re able to win with great players out.”
Bridges played sparingly at wide receiver (seven catches, 82 yards, two touchdowns), but his loss will be felt more in special teams.
Riley didn’t talk long-term penalties for the three players — “They’re suspended right now and that’s where I’m leaving it,” he said — and the coach added that right now, those are the only three who will be out.
Gallimore is a team captain. What’s been his message to teammates following this distraction?
“Guys already know what the deal is and the standard we have for us as a group,” he said. “Despite what happens, we know what we have to do. The primary thing is focusing on the task at hand and make sure we play our best ball.”