Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray……. and Jalen Hurts?
Does that sound like a conceivable progression?
Oklahoma Sooner fans hope so. But what should they really expect out of Hurts, who has already done something everyone associated with the Oklahoma program wishes they could have done…. that is, win a national championship?
Hurts is the third transfer quarterback in three years in Norman. The first two wound up winning the Heisman AND getting taken first in the NFL Draft. Whether anyone starts to expect the same thing out of Hurts will be determined starting Sunday night (7:30 PM ET), when the Sooners take on the Houston Cougars before a national television audience on ABC. Oklahoma is a 23-point favorite, with a posted total of 79.5 points.
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Lincoln Riley is one of those coaches who is being earmarked for immortality. First, however, he’d like to win a national championship. And there is no doubt that he can do something with Hurts, who has some unfinished business himself, in that in the national championship that he won with ‘Bama, he had to be rescued in the second half by Tua Tagovailoa, who from that day forward, owned the quarterback position.
Despite a 26-2 record as a starter, Hurts lost the job to a true freshman, and he knew he didn’t have a prayer going forward, but stuck out another year before transferring, which he knows he could have done anyway as a graduate student.
This is not a maestro at throwing the ball down the field. Hurts is best when he’s able to move around and offer the threat of the run. He can take care of the ball; in 2017, in fact, he threw 17 touchdown passes and only one interception. And by now Riley probably realizes that his best chance lies with a genuine mix of running and passing.
Does that fit in with what has made Oklahoma’s offense the last couple of seasons?
Hurts is similar to his predecessors, in that he has been beaten out of a job in the past. But you also have to remember that unlike Mayfield and Murray, Hurts does not have roots in something that would resemble an “Air Raid” offense. Don’t forget – Mayfield started at Texas Tech, while Murray was at Texas A&M under Kevin Sumlin, and was so admired by Kliff Kingsbury that……. well, you know the rest. Hurts doesn’t have that background, and I can’t see him going in that same direction.
Coach Riley has been very kind to Hurts, opining that at times last season, Alabama moved the ball better with him than with Tua, and that all Hurts needs is “to be freed up a little bit.”
And BetAnySports patrons constantly hear about Hurts having “different strengths” than his two predecessors. More likely than not, that’s code for “Well, he can’t run like Murray and he can’t pass like Mayfield.” But dammit, he’s a “winner,” right?
Yes, that he’s been, with that 26-2 record as a starter. And his numbers are nothing to sneeze at – a career 63% passer, with a 48-12 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions, and 1945 rushing yards. But as many NFL scouts will tell you, it’s a lot less difficult to run up impressive numbers when you have athletes around you who are far superior to those of the opponent a vast majority of the time. Hurts has enjoyed that at Alabama, and he will, to some extent, with Oklahoma.
But what he doesn’t have is a terribly experienced offensive line, which brings just one starter back. And he doesn’t necessarily have a great defense or special teams; Oklahoma was 129th nationally against the pass, which is second from the bottom. Hurts got a lot of good field position when he was with the Tide. He won’t have it as much wearing Crimson and Cream.
I also kept wondering – if Riley really believed all those things he said about his new quarterback, then why did he have a QB competition in camp, most notably with redshirt freshman Tanner Mordecai? Surely Hurts didn’t transfer from one situation where he was a backup to be a backup somewhere else, did he?
A key to Hurts’ success will lie in his ability to work play action, and while the Sooners have plenty of ammunition in their backfield, the offensive line will definitely have to step up. If they can, maybe Hurts can come close to the numbers posted by Mayfield and Murray, who combined for 42 touchdown passes with just three interceptions in play action situations the last two years.
The “winning” part of this equation has to hold up for Hurts to have a chance to win the Heisman Trophy. And that means the Sooners can’t stumble against Houston, or UCLA, or upset-minded Iowa State or Texas, or anywhere, for that matter. They have to be in the running for the four-team playoff, because the competition this year starts with Tua and Trevor Lawrence, a much better pro prospect and a defending national champion.
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