AMES — Another year, another high-profile, high-caliber Oklahoma quarterback.
The Sooners replace Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Kyler Murray (who replaced Heisman-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield) with national champion quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Hurts arrives in Norman, Okla., as a graduate transfer from Alabama. Last season, Hurts lost the starting quarterback job to Tua Tagovailoa, but Hurts still appeared in 13 games, passing for 765 yards and eight touchdowns and rushing for another 167 yards and two touchdowns.
Even though Hurts played just three seasons at Alabama — and his third season was essentially a half-season — he still holds the Alabama all-time rushing touchdowns for a quarterback record with 23, he’s second on Alabama’s all-time touchdowns list with 71 and he’s third on Alabama’s total yards list with 7,617.
That’s one heck of a quarterback Oklahoma Coach Lincoln Riley is getting.
Riley has made a name for himself in just two seasons as Sooners coach. He picked up right where Bob Stoops left off by winning back-to-back Big 12 championships and taking his team to the College Football Playoff each of his two years.
Since the start of the 2015 season, when Rley took over as Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator (Riley still calls the plays), the Sooners rank first nationally in points per game (45.3, next most is 41.9), total offense (559.3, next most is 526.5), touchdowns from scrimmage (308, next most is 287) and passer efficiency rating (189.5, next best is 160.3). Last season, Oklahoma led the nation in scoring with a ridiculous 48.4 points per game.
Don’t expect too much (if any) of a down turn with Hurts at the reigns. Both Mayfield and Murray transferred into Oklahoma from other programs and Riley turned them both into Heisman winners and No. 1 overall NFL Draft picks and neither one had the history of production that Hurts has.
To help take some of the load off of Hurts’ shoulders is running back Kennedy Brooks. Brooks averaged 8.9 yards per carry, which was third nationally. He rushed for 1,056 yards and 12 touchdowns in 12 games (he didn’t play against Iowa State or Army last season).
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Running back Trey Sermon also returns for the Sooners. He nearly joined Brooks in the 1,000-yard club by rushing for 947 yards and 13 touchdowns in 14 games.
Add in Hurts, and the Sooners will be nearly impossible to stop on the ground. Last season, Murray rushed for 1,001 yards and 12 touchdowns. Hurts is a different kind of athlete and runner than Murray, but both are very productive on the ground and Murray’s production could give an indication of what to expect from Hurts.
Oklahoma lost its leading receiver, Marquise Brown to the NFL Draft, but it does return All-Big 12 receiver CeeDee Lamb. Lamb caught 65 passes for 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
The only unknown on the offensive side of the ball is the line. Oklahoma lost four of its five starters (two to the NFL Draft and two to graduation). The Sooners had the best offensive line in the Big 12 last season, but they’ll be replacing everyone except center Creed Humphrey.
On the other side of the ball, essentially the whole defense is an unknown. Riley brought in Alex Grinch to be his new defensive coordinator. Grinch played with Iowa State coach Matt Campbell at Mount Union from 1999-2001.
Grinch was the Washington State defensive coordinator from 2015-17 and the Ohio State co-defensive coordinator last season.
Riley feels confident in Grinch’s ability to improve Oklahoma’s defense, which was the worst in the Big 12 last season.
“We haven’t played our best defensively consistently through the years but in a lot of big games, including the last one in (AT&T Stadium) we’ve played pretty darn good,” Riley said during Big 12 media days. “We’ve got to do that more consistently to make ourselves a better team and we feel like we’ve taken the steps to do that.”
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Way too early prediction: Oklahoma is an incredibly good football team and, frankly, it almost doesn’t matter what the defense does because its offense has been that much better than everyone since Riley took over as offensive coordinator, and subsequently head coach. The Sooners can score with anyone and it doesn’t look like that will change in 2019. If the Sooner defense makes one or two plays, OU will win the Big 12 again.
Iowa State’s defense is good, to the point where defending national champion Clemson made the trip to Ames to learn from defensive coordinator Jon Heacock, but even the Cyclones have had trouble slowing down Oklahoma. The Sooners scored 37 points last season in a win, the third fewest they scored all season.
The Sooners gained 8.4 yards per play last season. They gain nearly 10 yards every play, get lined up as fast as anyone to hike it again, and get 10 more yards. It’s fun to watch and, I’m sure, miserable to defend.
Iowa State should be good in 2019, just not Oklahoma good. I have the Sooners winning by 10-14 points in Norman.
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