NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley confirmed after the No. 5 Sooners’ opening victory over Missouri State that the game Saturday night had been jeopardy of being postponed or canceled because of the Sooners’ COVID-19 cases.
Earlier, the Springfield News-Leader reported that Missouri State President Clif Smart told the school’s board of governors that the game had been in doubt.
“It hung in the balance for a little bit, but we were able to do it,” Riley said after the 48-0 victory. “Thankfully, we were able to.”
Several Oklahoma players were out, including kicker Gabe Brkic and running back T.J. Pledger. Brkic was a preseason second-team All-American. Pledger was listed as the starting running back. Anton Harrison, a true freshman who was listed as the starting left tackle, also did not play.
Riley wouldn’t confirm why they were out. He said earlier in the week that he would no longer release team COVID-19 testing results.
The offensive line was especially hard hit with unavailable players.
“Three? I wish it was three,” he said. “It’s part of it. We’re lucky in that a lot of those guys, especially in the starting group, have played a lot of ball. We had to move some guys around to make tonight work, and those guys, with their experience in the system and game experience, were able to do that.”
He felt the staff handled the situation well.
“It’s either one of two things – you either see it as a hindrance and you say ‘poor me’ and you’re mad you’re in the situation and frustrated, or you look at it as an opportunity,” he said. “An opportunity to see some new players that maybe you wouldn’t have seen, an opportunity as coaches to test yourselves and be able to adjust when things come up.”
Many fans in attendance did not wear masks, despite OU saying they would be required and the policy would be enforced. The OU Daily published a statement from athletic director Joe Castiglione after the game reading, in part, "Unfortunately, we had too many fans fall short of expectations, and our message to those individuals is simple: we need you to do better."
The Norman Transcript reported "off-campus parties that drew crowds of over 200 people without regard for COVID-19. No masks were worn and people were huddled together in large groups."
In its Sept. 6th report for Oklahoma, the White House coronavirus task force said Cleveland County, where Norman is located, had the third highest week-over-week infection rate increase in the state. The White House has called for weeks for bars to be closed statewide; Norman allowed bars to operate at 75% capacity on game day.