It doesn’t seem to matter who plays quarterback or whether or not they’re replacing four draft-pick offensive linemen and an All-American burner at wide receiver. As long as Lincoln Riley is recruiting the players and calling the plays, the result is the same: Oklahoma receivers running free, ball carriers with massive holes to run through and a quarterback to tie it all together with mind-bending efficiency.
In his first start as OU’s starting quarterback, Jalen Hurts promptly put together a singular night as good or greater than anything Baker Mayfield or Kyler Murray ever did in their respective Heisman Trophy seasons. Aside from a second quarter fumble, Hurts was simply perfect: 20-of-23 passing for 332 yards and three touchdowns while rushing 16 times for 176 yards and three more scores in leading the No. 4 Sooners to a 49-31 win over Houston. The 176 rushing yards were a career high, and his 508 yards of total offense were the most ever by a player making his OU debut.
While much was made in the offseason of what Hurts can’t do in respect to Mayfield and Murray, we we overlooked what he can do.
For one, he’s perfectly capable of finding open receivers, like this 45-yard toss to CeeDee Lamb
Or there was this simple slant route to Charleston Rambo that turned into a 56-yard touchdown.
That Rambo score was an important one. Oklahoma had jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the second quarter but Houston pieced together a mini-rally by pulling within 21-10 at the half.
Hurts’ three rushing touchdowns showcased what he can do that Mayfield and Murray could not. Mayfield was a willing runner but limited athletically, at least in comparison to his two successors. Murray was lightning quick but has extremely slight build limited his use and range as a runner. Hurts, though, is listed at 6-foot-2 and 219 pounds, big enough for him to carry the ball both in scrambling situations and on called runs between the tackles.
The other key addition to the Oklahoma roster was defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, and for Houston’s first four possessions, it looked like he’d built a brand new Sooner defense. The Cougars’ first four possessions all ended in punts, three of them three-and-outs.
After that, though, the Houston offense settled in and the 2017-18 Oklahoma defense returned.
Houston’s final seven possessions totaled 53 plays for 420 yards and 31 points. D’Eriq King carried the Cougars with 167 yards and two touchdowns on 14-of-27 passing plus a team-high 15 carries for 103 yards and another score.
But while the defense is still a work in progress, the OU offense looked like a finished product from its very first snap. In just 61 snaps, the Sooners gained 686 yards (11.2 per attempt) with 30 first downs.