Kyler Murray, not Ruffin McNeill, holds key to back half of OU's season
By Guerin Emig Tulsa World
NORMAN — Kyler Murray sat through the Oklahoma-Texas press conference Oct. 6 like it was punishment. He stiffened in his chair almost defiantly. He looked angry at the world, which was his right given what had just happened.
“I probably said about six words after the game,” the OU quarterback said this week, “and then on the bus on the way home.”
Murray’s face was softer Monday as he reflected on that sour day in the Cotton Bowl. He wore a stocking cap. He talked a little about childhood quarterbacking influences like Michael Vick and Tom Brady. He boasted of the Sooners’ effort during their post-Texas off week.
“Definitely one of our most competitive weeks of practice of the year,” he said. “We got a lot of good work in.”
Murray was in a better place nine days after the 48-45 setback. And while you figured he would be given what they say about time healing, it didn’t make it any less important.
Because it is Murray who can put the Sooners back on course.
The chasm between OU’s offense and any other unit in the Big 12 Conference is as wide as it was when Baker Mayfield quarterbacked the past three years. That allows the Sooners to restart their engine and regain their pole position, same as in 2015 after a strange loss to Texas and 2017 after a stranger loss to Iowa State.
The Sooners rebounded to win the league and make the College Football Playoff both of those years. They can repeat that feat over the next six weeks, provided Murray stays healthy and sharp.
He is a cut above Big 12 quarterbacks, now that we’ve seen what a swarming defense can do to Will Grier. He, in tandem with coach Lincoln Riley, makes his offense a cut above.
If Murray plays the back half of the season with the same potency he played the front, the Sooners should expect to win out, get to the Big 12 championship game Dec. 1, and then tune into the selection show Dec. 2 hopefully.
Murray must still stay ahead of both opposing defenses and his own, unless new coordinator Ruffin McNeill has Dumbledorian powers we don’t know about. He absolutely can, though. He absolutely will, so long as he takes a little better care of the ball than he did against Texas.
Murray has proven to be Mayfield’s playmaking equal. Now he must prove he can be as influential as his predecessor.
Mayfield cleaned up messes immaculately. He threw 13 touchdown passes versus one interception in the games immediately following his four regular-season losses at OU.
He knew everyone wondered how he would respond, and he thrived on it.
Murray doesn’t seek the camera like Mayfield. He isn’t much for soundbites, let alone speeches.
But it won’t keep everyone from zeroing in on him at TCU on Saturday.
“They probably will just because he plays quarterback at Oklahoma,” Riley said. “As far as his response to adversity, what I saw the second half of that Texas game, the fourth quarter in particular, was a pretty good response, too.
“He’s going to continue to grow. He’s still, in so many ways, young and inexperienced and is still learning.”
It calls to mind Murray’s freshman season at Texas A&M in 2015. Swept up in Kevin Sumlin’s depth chart circus, he threw more interceptions than touchdown passes when given his opportunities, then bolted after the Aggies’ 8-4 regular season.
Three years more mature, and comforted by the presence of Riley plus receiving tag-team CeeDee Lamb and Marquise Brown, Murray is better equipped to handle trauma. If the attention and pressure is coming harder now that he has lost as an OU starting quarterback, he is better equipped to handle that as well.
“He’s got to approach this just like he did at the beginning of this season when everybody wanted to talk about replacing Baker and blah blah blah,” Riley said. “He was himself and he got better and better. He needs to keep doing the same. If he does, I’m as confident in his abilities and the way he’s playing as any player in the country right now.”
If he does, he’ll lead the Sooners back where they belong just as Mayfield did.