Let’s play a game.
I’m going to describe someone, and you see if you can figure out who I’m talking about. He was a two-year starting quarterback at one of the premier high school football programs in the state of Texas and led his team to a state championship. He also played baseball in high school and was a .300+ hitter. He enrolled at a power-five program and spent his freshman year splitting playing time with another quarterback. He eventually got frustrated by his coach’s inability to settle on one QB and chose to transfer to Oklahoma where he knew he would have to compete with an established starter for playing time. He’s often criticized for being undersized for a QB. Did you figure it out yet?
If you answered either Baker Mayfield or Kyler Murray, you are correct.
When Murray first arrived in Norman in December 2015, it looked as though his college career would continue to mirror Mayfield’s to a tee. He would sit out a year following his transfer, earn his chops on the scout team and assume the starting position for three years following Mayfield’s departure. Six months later, a surprise Big 12 ruling threw a wrench in his plans. The announcement that Mayfield would be granted a fifth year of eligibility meant that Murray would be resigned to carrying the clipboard for another year.
Three years ago, it would have been inconceivable to think that the No. 1 quarterback in the class of 2015 would have to wait three whole years before becoming a full-time starter in college, but that is the reality that Murray is now facing. Outwardly, he seems to remain upbeat about his role on the team. “The opportunity, when it presents itself, it’ll come,” Murray told the Tulsa World regarding Mayfield’s decision to return for a fifth season. “That was his decision. I can’t control what he does. I’m just gonna keep working hard for this team.”
While Murray’s opportunity to take the reigns as a starter may have to wait another year, his chance to help his team might not. By many accounts, Murray might be the fastest player on OU’s entire roster. His blazing speed gives Lincoln Riley a plethora of options for utilizing him in the offensive scheme.
The most obvious use for Murray would be to run a scheme similar to the “Belldozer” package from a few years ago. A Murray variation would obviously look different as he is much smaller and quicker than Blake Bell, but the idea of having a package specifically designed for a running quarterback could make its way back into the Oklahoma Sooners’ offensive repertoire this season. OU will be looking for guys to step up to fill the production void in the backfield left by the departures of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. A run-first scheme centered around Murray could also save Mayfield a bit of wear-and-tear.
Another possible use for Murray’s unique combination of speed and arm strength could be trick plays. He could potentially line up out wide as a receiver and end up throwing the ball. Don’t be surprised if Riley dials up something (maybe something similar to what Alabama did with Ardarius Stewart?) to try and catch opposing defenses off guard.
While Murray’s abilities as an athlete may earn him the majority of his snaps this season, his true value to the Sooners goes far beyond that. Murray’s experience and abilities far exceed that of your average backup quarterback. He gives OU an assurance that not all is lost should Mayfield go down with an injury.
The drop-off between the OU’s starter and backup quarterbacks has been steep in past years, and it has cost them dearly. If Sam Bradford had a backup like Murray in 2007, Bob Stoops might have won a second national championship ring. God forbid something should happen to Mayfield, Murray could prove to be invaluable to keeping the Sooners’ Big 12 title and College Football Playoff hopes alive.
Murray will no doubt get his chance to show the world what he can do over the next few years. For now, he remains the quarterback equivalent of homeowners insurance. You hope you never need it, but if your house burns down you’ll sure be glad you have it.