NORMAN — After he led Oklahoma to an easy touchdown as a first-time Sooners quarterback on Friday night, Jalen Hurts gathered some of his teammates around.
Not for any Braveheart speech. Not for any admonishment. But for a selfie.
“We took one, and I said, ‘Yeah, I ain’t doing that over there at the other place – at Alabama.’
“Fun atmosphere. Figured, why not? My old coach, coach (Nick) Saban, I probably would have gotten a chewing for that one. We’re having fun.”
Hurts, the transfer from Alabama and the likely savior of Lincoln Riley’s third season as OU’s head coach, had fun as he sparkled under the lights in the Sooners’ annual spring game, completing 11-of-14 throws for 174 yards with one touchdown passing and one touchdown rushing.
The starting job, Riley says, is still open. And for Hurts’ part, he said he’s going to stick to “the process” — that old Saban standby — and come to work every day and help the team win any way he can.
Hurts’ Red team Friday won by the largely inconsequential score of 35-14, though it certainly mattered to Hurts to make his other crimson debut (even as he wore a blue target jersey), and to Riley as he eventually announces his pick to replace Kyler Murray.
For the 50,228 fans in the seats and those watching on TV or on their computers, mobile devices or crystal balls, the reality set in early during the scrimmage: even with a rebuilt line, Oklahoma’s offense is going to be just fine in 2019 thanks to its new graduate transfer quarterback.
“I thought he had a good night,” Riley said. “It’s been kind of a constant improvement for him. It’s certainly a long, long way from where we started.”
Backup Tanner Mordecai connected on 11-of-24 throws with 142 yards (Lee Morris turned a short catch into a 58-yard TD) with an unsightly interception. Walk-on Tanner Schafer came in late and was 6-of-7 for 87 yards with two TDs.
And five-star schoolboy Spencer Rattler, remember, arrives this summer.
Mordecai, granted a chance to compete for the job with one of college football’s most accomplished quarterbacks, was disappointed in his play.
“I wasn’t too happy with my performance. Just inconsistency,” Mordecai said. “… I just didn’t play as well as I wanted to.”
Hurts had one built-in advantage over Mordecai: he had a better offensive line unit. OU needs to replace four starters up front, and returning center Creed Humphrey is recovering from an injury this spring. So of the four projected starters, Riley split them up, giving Hurts tackles Erik Swenson and Adrian Ealy and Mordecai guards Marquis Hayes and Tyrese Robinson.
“It looked like the protection on Tanner’s squad probably wasn’t as strong,” Riley said.
Mordecai hookup with Morris was encouraging, but then as Hurts responded with three successive touchdowns, Mordecai threw incomplete twice on a three-and-out drive, and then badly overthrew Charleston Rambo with a throw that was picked off by Justin Broiles.
Still, Riley was impressed that Mordecai picked himself up.
“I thought he showed some real poise there the last couple of drives of just resettling back in, taking what was there,” Riley said. “… And that’s what you want to see from a young guy. You start off great, have a great first series, and then have a couple of tough series; do you respond? And he responded.”
Hurts certainly seems to have won over his teammates — not with stats or good throws or explosive runs. He’s won them over with poise under duress and his natural leadership skills.
“Yeah he’s got some swagger to him,” Swenson said. “The way he walks, the way he calls plays, he’s definitely got that to him. … Guys just kinda of (gravitate) to what he has to say and it’s kind of impressive, honestly. The magnitude of his leadership skills, that he can just come in, maybe meet the guys for less than 20 minutes and they’re already listening to him — it’s pretty impressive, to be honest with you.”
“He’s a true leader,” Broiles said. “When steps in the room, you know Jalen Hurts is in the room. … Just how he carries himself. The knowledge and experience he brings, there’s a whole bunch that he can bring to this team.”
Hurts said his growth at OU has all been part of — you guessed it — a process.
“It’s a process,” he said. “I’m a process-oriented person. Going from A to Z, or climbing a mountain, it takes time.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “The Franchise Drive” every weeknight from 6-8 on The Franchise in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and appears throughout the day on other shows on The Franchise. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Hoover also covers the Big 12 for Sporting News and Lindy’s magazine and is a feature writer for Sooner Spectator magazine. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.