Kyler Murray’s first road start said all that needed to be said about the 21-year old north Texas native.
Any thoughts that the Oklahoma Sooners would be in a constant state of nostalgia overdose over the loss of Baker Mayfield have been put to rest. That’s not to say that Murray is better than Mayfield. Rather that Lincoln Riley’s Sooner offense won’t skip a beat between two generational quarterbacks.
Florida Atlantic was not going to provide the test needed. The Owls don’t possess the athletes. UCLA is still a year or two away from posing a serious threat. Even in that match, Murray appeared to struggle during stretches of the game with his accuracy. Not to mention Murray’s scattered game appearances since arriving in Norman in 2016 have been in mop-up duty. There just hasn’t been enough of a sample size to really feel confident absent of doubt going forward with Murray.
It was to be Ames, Iowa — a site defensive coordinator Mike Stoops called a “tough place to play,” — as the location that was going to show Oklahoma fans if Murray was going to be the guy to lead the team at a pace they’ve come to expect.
Heading into the game against the Cyclones, Murray had completed 28-of-44 (64 percent) passes in just over five and a half quarters of play. Of those 28 completions, 19 had gone to Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb. When you have two future NFL’ers at receiver, you get them the ball. But in the limited time we have been able to analyze Murray’s play, questions were starting to arise.
Was Murray not spreading the ball around enough? In Riley’s offense that is littered with more weapons than a minefield in the Sinai desert, 67 percent of your completions going to two players can present problems down the road. In comparison, last season’s receivers with the most catches were Brown and Mark Andrews, who combined for 38 percent of the total completions. Simply put, your offense is more dangerous when the defense has to key on more than one or two guys.
All this was coming to a head when the Sooners arrived in Ames, where Oklahoma has not lost since Dwight D. Eisenhower was in office. What would happen if the Sooners got bogged down into a slow-paced struggle? When passing windows become smaller or when the defense refuses to let Brown simply run past them over and over?
It was that very situation Oklahoma and Murray found themselves in at the 10:43 mark in the fourth quarter.
Clinging to a 34-27 lead and holding little to no momentum since early in the second half, Murray trotted onto the field. Brown, who had 189 yards receiving at half time but finished with 191 for the game, was enduring tough coverage from an inspired Iowa State defense. Lamb’s three catches all came in the first half. The nightmare scenario was in effect. Murray was going to have to figure out a way to win away from his two talented security blankets.
Oklahoma up until that point had nine possessions and averaged 2:48 per possession. Some due to quick scores, others that didn’t showcase Oklahoma’s fast-pace scoring. Another quick possession that didn’t result in a score could have doomed the Sooners’ season.
What followed was a 12 play, 47 yard drive that took 7:52 off the clock.
On that drive, QB1 found Grant Calcaterra, who had a critical fumble early in the game. Myles Tease and Trey Sermon also found themselves on the receiving end of Murray passes. But what made the drive was Murray’s ability to on the ground. Two runs of 15 yards kept the chains moving and the struggling Sooner defense off the field. All this was capped off by a 42-yard field goal that put the game out of reach with only 2:51 to go in the game.
Kyler Murray, whose athleticism and big arm can sometimes overshadow the intricate details that make him such a great quarterback, overcame in-game adversity and won a game on the road in a way most would say was uncomfortable. He trusted guys further down the depth chart and even a player in Calcaterra who coughed up the ball in a tight game. The sign of a true quarterback.
Of course, there is still room for improvement. That same possession saw Murray take a bad nine yard sack that put a chip shot field goal into iffy-territory. Again, it was his first road start. More tests are on the horizon still with a suddenly strong Big 12 Conference.
But Oklahoma is more than set with Murray. He’s not Mayfield, he’s his own special talent.