By now, everyone knows Lincoln Riley as the architect of the most explosive offense in college football. But this season, Riley will face his stiffest test to date: getting the best out of Jalen Hurts.
After back-to-back Heisman Trophy campaigns from Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, the eyes of the country will be on Hurts as he tries to replicate the success of the quarterbacks before him.
Jalen Hurts isn’t Baker Mayfield. Nor is he Kyler Murray.
But that’s okay, he can still thrive under Riley.
Hurts is not going to suddenly throw for 4,500 yards just by being dropped into the Oklahoma offense, but his reputation for being unable to throw the football is unearned.
In his freshman season at Alabama, Hurts threw for 2,780 yards and 23 touchdowns. Oh by the way, Hurts did this against SEC competition, as opposed to Mayfield’s 2,315 yards and and 12 touchdowns on just 42 less attempts in his first year at Texas Tech.
The former Alabama quarterback has the arm talent to efficiently lead the OU offense. And his rushing prowess, while less explosive, can be more reliable than Murray due to his larger size to take the hits downfield.
Hurts also had a higher passer efficiency rating than both Mayfield and Murray in their respective freshmen seasons.
The largest hurdle for Hurts will be the inconsistency he has faced his entire career at the coaching position. Riley will be his fourth offensive coordinator in as many seasons.
Mayfield and Murray had the benefit of having an entire season to learn Riley’s system while they were ineligible to play, whereas Hurts will have to immediately pick up the system and lead the offense.
The result of Mayfield and Murray’s year of learning was an increase in their yards per pass attempt. Riley asks his quarterbacks to attack the defense at all levels, and the result is more passes down the field.
Hurts will likely have no fear pushing the ball down field. After seeing SEC secondaries at Alabama, the crop of defensive talent in the Big 12 shouldn’t stump him.
It is not unrealistic at all for Hurts to have passing numbers resembling Mayfield’s 2015 season. Hurts will just need to increase his passing yards per attempt by two yards a pass to reach Mayfield’s average. Hurts’ passing completion percentage will likely not take a six percent jump, but he is a much more accomplished runner than Mayfield, where he can make up for any passing deficiencies that may surface.
Hurts often was able to shut down the offense in the second half in his time at Alabama as well, which has given him less opportunity over his career to spread the ball out all over the field.
He may not bring a third straight Heisman back to Norman, but Hurts can be efficient enough to put the Sooners in position to win a fifth straight Big 12 Championship and a potential third straight bid to the College Football Playoff.