With only a few weeks left until National Signing Day, the eyes of most Sooner fans are fixed squarely on #SoonerSquad17. While this year’s recruiting class is certainly one of Stoops’ best in years, it’s worth noting that Oklahoma is gaining another talented player this year from the 2015 recruiting class. That player, of course, is Kyler Murray— a former 5-star quarterback from Allen, Texas who spent his freshman year at Texas A&M before transferring to Oklahoma a year ago.
Murray has sat out his requisite season after transferring, and he now joins the team at an interesting time. Baker Mayfield has already announced his return to Oklahoma, and he’s coming off Heisman-worthy seasons in back-to-back years. Furthermore, Austin Kendall got moderate playing game in two games this season as a freshman with Murray ineligible, and it looks like he’s the player OU may be grooming for the future.
So what’s a team to do with an outstanding talent like Murray when they already have an established superstar running the showalong with a younger player who could be the answer after this year? If you’re Lincoln Riley, the answer is that you use him.
With the departures of both Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon this offseason, the Sooners have been left with large shoes to fill in their backfield heading into 2017. Fans are looking at Rodney Anderson, Abdul Adams and a host of talented freshman running backs joining the team. But the Sooners would be remiss not to utilize Murray in the backfield as well. His unique skill set creates an opportunity for a playbook the size of which we’ve never seen.
From the first play of his highlight video, it’s apparent that Murray is going to be one of the faster players on OU’s team this year. In high school he ran for over 4,000 yards, and he looks like he has the ability to take it to the house any time he chooses to take off.
But there are a lot of fast players in college football. That alone isn’t what makes Murray special. He’s special because he’s also an excellent quarterback. He didn’t finish his high school career 42-0 with speed alone, and he didn’t throw for 4,713 yards as a senior with just his legs. He had no difficulty in high school throwing the ball 50 yards in the air with just a flick of his wrist, and I doubt his arm’s gotten any weaker in the time he’s spent with college strength and conditioning programs.
So that leads to the question of how exactly Oklahoma will utilize Murray in 2017.
The first and most obvious option is that Murray could come off the bench to temporarily replace Mayfield when OU wants to seriously increase the running threat. Murray would be ideal for zone reads or option plays since defenses simply can’t ignore his speed. This option is often criticized for being too obvious, since it practically shouts “we’re probably going to run it here,” but (as discussed above), Murray is also a good passer, and teams would have to respect his arm as well. There’s precedent for this type of scheme, and even Oklahoma has a recent history of switching quarterbacks when the situation calls for a specific skill set (remember the Belldozer?).
I don’t think that swapping quarterbacks is a bad idea because it would be obvious. But I do think it would be a bad idea because Mayfield is the best quarterback on OU’s roster. Murray looked like a great thrower in high school, and in limited action at A&M he did fine, but Mayfield is coming off perhaps the best all-around statistical season in NCAA history. It just doesn’t make sense to put a player like that on the bench. Furthermore, Mayfield isn’t slow, so it’s not like the Sooners would need Murray to have any kind of mobile threat.
Plus, Lincoln Riley has already mentioned that he’s been developing packages that use both quarterbacks at the same time, so I expect his creativity to lead to something much better than a simple substitution.
Next, and the second most obvious position for Murray, would be running the wildcat with Mayfield out wide, lined up as a receiver. Oklahoma used the wild cat several times in the last two years with Perine and Mixon, and they often left Mayfield on the field as a decoy. As obvious as it was that a run was coming up, there was always at least a moderate threat that one of them could fling the ball out to Mayfield.
While Murray doesn’t have the size of either Perine or Mixon, he could still act as the wildcat quarterback in short yardage situations. There would be a real threat of a pass from Murray, a decent threat of Mayfield getting involved somehow in a pitch-back, but also a real threat that Murray would simply run the ball up the middle and try to push the pile.
The possibilities don’t stop there, though. With Murray’s elite athleticism, he can absolutely line up at either running back or wide receiver. He could actually play those positions like normal, or he could run the kinds of plays that Oklahoma called on Dede Westbrook for last year:
A screen pass or reverse that gets the ball in Murray’s hands going toward the sideline could be deadly for Oklahoma. While he doesn’t have the speed that Westbrook has, he is a much, much more capable passer. That means that if you line up Murray to the outside and have him move in motion toward the quarterback, the defense always has to be prepared for at least four things: a fake handoff where Mayfield throws it, a fake handoff where Mayfield runs it, and a toss to Murray could legitimately lead to either a throw downfield or a long run.
I’m sure there are a lot of plays that Lincoln Riley will cook up for next year, and we could see a lot of things that we haven’t seen before. If you’ve got any thoughts for ways you’d like to see Murray make a difference next year, let us know in the comments!