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Oklahoma Sooners Football: Kyler Murray has work to do, but greatness is within his grasp

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Kyler Murray holds himself to a high standard, and that will help this team as the season progresses.

UCLA v Oklahoma Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

Following the Oklahoma Sooners’ 49-21 win over the UCLA Bruins, ESPN’s Marty Smith caught up with Kyler Murray to get his thoughts on the game as well as his individual performance.

“I could have played better,” Murray said, “but it was good enough.”

Considering he was recently named Big 12 and Walter Camp Offensive Player of the Week, that kind of self-assessment says something about the standard to which Murray holds himself. On the day, the dynamic, dual-threat (and dual-sport) athlete passed for a career-best 306 yards and accounted for five scores.

Murray will admit he’s a perfectionist, and that’s not a bad thing to be. He’s shown an ability to recognize areas where he can improve, which is a quality that could ultimately determine how far this team will go.

In the season opener, Murray was as close to perfect as it gets when it comes to playing quarterback at the highest level of college football — at least from a statistical standpoint. Granted, the competition wasn’t incredibly stiff, but looking like he did that day is hard to do against air, so it shouldn’t be discounted.

Compare the FAU game to the UCLA game, and while the stats show Murray had monster outings in both contests, they don’t necessarily show the discernable moments of this superhuman athlete looking relatively human. That’s not to take away anything away from his overall performance, because if he plays like he has the rest of the way, Oklahoma should be in good shape. However, this is still football, so realistically, the pendulum swings both ways.

One of the more humbling moments from last Saturday was when Murray threw his first interception as a Sooner.

Considering the area of the field in which the turnover took place, it worked out more like a punt than anything else. If he could have that throw back, he would have A. tried to place that ball further inside, or B. instead of heaving the ball into tight coverage, I’m sure Murray would elect to work through his progressions, which is actually something he’s been doing fairly well (and perhaps a bit better than expected) through this early part of the season.

Murray has also displayed some issues with screen passes and touch around the line of scrimmage. This will hopefully improve over time as he grows more comfortable, but it’s a bit of a red flag at the moment. However, even with the work that needs to be done, the positives heavily outweigh the negatives.

Oklahoma’s offensive line has been doing a superb job in pass protection, allowing Murray to hang back in the pocket and scan the defense for open options. What’s most amazing is that a player with Murray’s running ability trusts in his training and his teammates around him enough to hold off on using his wheels until it’s absolutely necessary. That’s big-time, and when you combine a clean pocket with patience and accuracy (and some elite targets), you end up with this:

A clean pocket does a lot to help Murray play to his potential, but as we saw on more than one occasion against the Bruins, if pass rushers can’t get to him, they’ll throw their arms up to try to deflect the pass instead. Height doesn’t have everything to do with it, but it certainly plays a role, and with Murray being on the more diminutive side of the things, it’ll be something he and Lincoln Riley will need to remain conscious of moving forward.

Something that we all fully expect Riley to continuing employing is the read option in the red zone (well, in general, but particularly in the red zone). With how dynamic the Sooners are at the skill positions, and how dangerous Murray is when he calls his own number, OU is always going to be tough to stop in these situations.

Not only is Murray ultra-deceptive with his keeps, he’s savvy enough to know exactly when and how to sell the fake hand-off. It’s rare for a quarterback to be equipped to throw like he can and move like he does, but that’s why he’s regarded as such a special talent.

Will Kyler Murray produce in record-setting fashion like Baker Mayfield did for three years? Likely not, but fortunately he may not have to. With Oklahoma’s defense having taken considerable strides this season, all Murray has to do is take what’s given to him, and allow his teammates to work. Sure, there will be moments when he’ll need to make a play, but more often than not, it’ll be a matter of simply playing clean and within himself.

One thing’s for sure — whether or not he plays at a superhuman level, Murray won’t be easily satisfied, and that’s why he’ll continue to have success.

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