This is becoming a fact of life — if you’re a starting quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners, at some point in your career you’re going to be in the Heisman conversation. In Kyler Murray’s case, the chances of actually winning the prestigious trophy are both high and realistic.
Stacked up against the other two finalists, Murray is quite deserving of the honor from a statistical standpoint. I actually explored that side of the Heisman equation following conference championship weekend, and quite frankly, it’s a no-brainer as to who should be the favorite to claim the award. But don’t take my word for it — he’s also the betting favorite to win the thing.
Statistics are one part of it, but another part of it that I will highlight more in-depth here is the Heisman moments. These are the moments in which a player steps up in the face of adversity, when the outcome of the game is still in question, and when the opposition can take control with the smallest of mistakes. Oh, and it also includes plays that are just downright impressive. These are the moments that define games, seasons, and legacies. Now let’s get started.
Kyler Murray’s top Heisman moments
The hype around Murray coming into the season was no where near what it’s like today, but there were definitely some rumblings at the time. His reputation as an elite athlete and playmaker preceded his first start of the 2018 season. In the season opener against Florida Atlantic, the play that first turned up the dial on the Heisman talk was this dazzling scramble that didn’t go to the house or for a ton of yardage, but it showed exactly what opponents were getting themselves into when facing the Sooners.
If he wasn’t a big deal before this play, he certainly was after this performance. Every Heisman campaign has to start somewhere, and what better way to kick off a season than with an amazing showing of pure escapability?
For the Big 12 opener, Oklahoma would hit the road for the first time to play Iowa State. If you recall (how could you not?), the Cyclones pulled off an upset for the ages in 2017, taking down the Sooners in Norman. With Murray at the helm this time, things would play out much differently. My guy went into full-on field general mode.
Have a day, @TheKylerMurray.— Sooner Gridiron (@soonergridiron) September 15, 2018
Here's a glimpse of Murray's 4⃣2⃣5⃣-yard performance in Oklahoma's 37-27 win over Iowa State.
3⃣4⃣8⃣ — Passing Yards
7⃣7⃣ — Rushing Yards
2⃣1⃣ — Completions
1⃣5⃣ — Carries
3⃣ — Touchdowns.#BoomerSooner | #Kyler4Heisman pic.twitter.com/ZCccl1rDAl
His 425 yards of total offense would be his fourth highest output of the season, but it wasn’t just the number of yards he accumulated on the day, it was the timeliness of the plays he made that led to an Oklahoma victory. Time and time again, Murray used his legs to extend plays and convert on crucial downs. With ISU ranked in the final CFP poll and heading to the Alamo Bowl, the win in Ames has proven to be one of the Sooners’ better victories on the year.
Though the game against Army was on PPV, the buzz from the happenings of the game quickly spread around the college football world. The Black Knights’ triple option attack slowly smothered Oklahoma, leaving almost no time for Murray and the Sooners’ offense to operate, let alone build any sort of rhythm. As it played out, the game would go into OT, but K1 wasn’t fazed.
Kyler nearly got the job done on one play, but after further review, more K1 was needed. On just the second play of the extra period, Murray did what he’s normally done — he came up clutch, finding CeeDee Lamb for a very necessary go-ahead score. The score not only broke the tie, the series of events showed just how clutch Murray is in that situation. He exudes confidence on and off the field, and his play backs that up.
Now this wasn’t a win. And sure, he turned over the ball twice, leading to Texas points, but if it weren’t for his heroics in the latter stages of the fourth quarter, the loss could have been much uglier, and it may have saved OU a bit of dignity in the eyes of the College Football Playoff committee. Fortunately it’s all worked out, and it may not have been possible without Murray’s epic sprint down the sideline for six.
Trailing by as much as 21, Oklahoma needed a high dosage of Sooner Magic. Insert Kyler Murray. Seriously, the dude nearly made it happen. He and Trey Sermon deserve a ton of credit for not giving up when their backs were against the wall and it looked all but over. In the end, it was an ‘L’ on the record, and losing can never truly boost a player’s Heisman chances. However, the way the game in Dallas played out did set up Murray’s greatest moment that was still to come.
In Lubbock, Murray couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start. Not only did he throw two interceptions on the Sooners’ first two drives, those turnovers both directly led to Texas Tech touchdowns. A 14-0 hole out of the gate on the road is about as adverse as it gets in this sport, but Murray kept his cool, shook off the bad start and played his game.
After throwing two early interceptions, Kyler Murray bounced back in a big way against Texas Tech.— Sooner Gridiron (@soonergridiron) November 4, 2018
3⃣6⃣0⃣ — Passing Yards
1⃣0⃣0⃣ — Rushing Yards
3⃣ — Passing Touchdowns
1⃣ — Rushing Touchdown#BoomerSooner pic.twitter.com/J9HXrI3PT8
Once he settled into the game, it was business as usual for the offense. Oklahoma still had to fight to the finish in one of the season’s many shootouts, but having battled through the early deficit, OU ultimately prevailed. When the going get’s tough, Kyler Murray gets going.
With so many plays made in Bedlam, it was a little challenging pinpointing an exact moment in which Murray made a definitive statement to Heisman voters, but one that stood out to me was this play made late in the third quarter. Oklahoma was trailing by a point during this drive, but Murray coolly linked up with one of his favorite targets — Marquise “Hollywood” Brown.
Gus Johnson Voice: HOLLYWOOD! pic.twitter.com/RZ2SiUehej— Sooner Gridiron (@soonergridiron) November 10, 2018
This moment is significant for two reasons. One, it immediately swung momentum back in the Sooners’ favor. The other reason it’s significant is that it led to a score, giving the lead back to Oklahoma. That also marked the last time the upset-minded Cowboys held the lead in the game.
Against West Virginia on Senior Night in Morgantown, Will Grier and the Mountaineers were off to a fast start, going up 7-0 on the opening drive of the game. It was up to Kyler Murray and the Sooners to answer right away, or else risk escalating WVU’s momentum in a raucous environment with a berth in the Big 12 Championship Game on the line. Like always, he didn’t need much room. In seconds, he was off to the races.
Of course, the game turned out to be a back-and-forth affair that wasn’t decided until the late stages of the final quarter, but if it wasn’t for Murray answering that initial score the way he did, the end result could’ve been much different.
Fast-forward to the closing moments — Oklahoma held onto a three-point lead with 2:36 remaining. West Virginia only had one timeout left, so a first down would effectively end the game. Facing a fourth down on the Mountaineers’ 40, Lincoln Riley was not fond of the idea of giving the ball back to Dana Holgorsen’s offense. So he went for it knowing full well that the outcome of the play was in the hands of this cool customer.
When it happened live, it seemed like the play took forever. Murray scrambled out of the pocket and scanned the field for an open man beyond the chains. Sure enough, someone did get open. It was Lamb, who’s connected with Murray on a number of clutch plays in the past, and he did so once again. The Sooners converted the fourth down, won the game and punched their ticket to the Big 12 Championship Game.
After a scintillating matchup against WVU the week prior, the chance to avenge the October loss to Texas at the Cotton Bowl presented itself. Beyond that, Oklahoma’s playoff hopes were still very much alive, and winning the conference crown was only going to keep the momentum going. So what did Kyler Murray do in round two against his Red River rivals?
He turned that dial all the way up. Sure, he’s recorded more yards and more scores in games before, but this was the biggest game of his football career. Not only that, but Murray was the epitome of clutch when it mattered most.
Just before the half, he led the Sooners down the field in under a minute for the go-ahead score. In the fourth, he took advantage of Tre Brown’s safety and drove the offense again, converting 3-3 third downs with his arm, including the final touchdown in the corner of the end zone to Grant Calcaterra. The biggest difference between his two games against UT was in the turnover department. In the first meeting, Murray threw an INT and lost a fumble. In the second, no such happenings repeated themselves.
It was a masterful performance with everything on the line, and that right there is why this game, among all the others, was Kyler Murray’s signature Heisman moment.
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