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Oklahoma Sooners Football: Hurts impresses in 49-31 win over Houston

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OU’s maligned defense showed signs of life in the first game for new coordinator Alex Grinch.

Houston v Oklahoma Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

With transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts at the helm, the Oklahoma Sooners showed no signs of slowing down on offense in their 2019 season opener, a 49-31 win over the Houston Cougars at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Meanwhile, OU’s defense offered signs of hope under new coordinator Alex Grinch.

The rare Sunday night tilt fit the archetypal week one game to the letter. OU started fast, roaring out to a 21-0 lead before UH could get on the board late in the second quarter. At the same time, the Sooners left plenty of points on the field in the first half, including two missed field goals and a Hurts fumble in Cougar territory to kill a promising drive.

The sloppy miscues allowed Houston to hang around and keep the halftime deficit to just 11 points at 21-10. The Sooners tacked on three more touchdowns to start the second half, however, which prevented UH from ever mounting a serious comeback.

It wasn’t an A-plus performance for the No. 4 team in the country, but it revealed reasons for optimism and points of concern in about equal measure.

*Hurts shined.

The ex-Alabama QB hit on 20 of his 23 pass attempts in the game, rolling up 332 yards through the air and three passing TDs. Hurts added three more scores on the ground as he rushed 16 times for 176 yards.

Clearly, coach Lincoln Riley feels comfortable using Hurts as one of the Sooners’ primary running threats. The game plan mixed in designed QB runs and plays intended to get Hurts moving with the option to run of throw.

Hurts’ passing did leave something to be desired, though. Despite the great numbers, he misfired on a couple deep balls that OU usually completed when Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield were making the throws.

Still, 500 total yards makes for one hell of a debut in the Crimson and Cream.

*The front six played well for the majority of the game.

The improvement of the front six became one of the big stories behind the scenes during OU’s preseason practices. That carried over to game one. While defensive linemen Neville Gallimore and Ronnie Perkins created havoc for UH QB D’Eriq King in the backfield, linebacker Kenneth Murray cleaned up when the ball crossed the line of scrimmage. Murray finished the game with 13 total tackles.

Play deteriorated as the game wore on. King and the UH running backs found inviting seams all over the line of scrimmage in the second half, enabling the Cougars to run for 273 yards for the game and pick up yards in chunks.

The good news is that UH did most of its damage with OU rotating in its bench players in the third and fourth quarters. The running lanes should at least tighten up once Grinch and the coaching staff establish shorter rotations as the season wears on.

*OU still boasts an overwhelming set of offensive weapons.

Hurts’ 20 completions went to 10 different receivers. His targets included speedster Charleston Rambo, who turned a short slant route into a 56-yard touchdown early in the second half. Rambo also made a statement with his postgame attire.

Rookie Jadon Haselwood caught two balls for 46 yards in his first action as a Sooner, making good on the promise he showed as one of the top high school receivers in the country in this recruiting class.

Additionally, OU running backs Trey Sermon, Kennedy Brooks, and Rhamondre Stevenson ran for a combined 178 yards and a score on just 21 attempts.

With those kinds of assets around him, Hurts doesn’t have to be the next Cam Newton to thrive in this offense.