NORMAN — Kenneth Murray played as if fed up and out to prove a point Sunday night against Houston.
Was it the flak he has been catching for two years as Oklahoma’s middle linebacker? The flak his defense has been catching? Was it the reboot new coordinator Alex Grinch and new position coach Brian Odom have provided?
Was it his past, his present or his future?
“It’s multiple things that keep me motivated. I find fuel in everything,” Murray said Tuesday. “I want to go out there and prove I’m the best. I want to go out and be the fifth Butkus Award winner at Oklahoma. I want to prove that our defense is something that shouldn’t be played with. It’s a lot. A lot of it I can’t really explain, but it keeps me going.”
So it’s Murray’s past, present and future.
I imagine it’s the same for quarterback Jalen Hurts, as central to the Sooners’ offense as Murray is to their defense.
Surely he is driven by both what happened to him at Alabama, his being marginalized by Tua Tagovailoa, and what might happen for him this season at OU, his leading the Sooners to a national championship now 19 years in waiting.
“I’m motivated by a ton of different factors. The most important one is self-motivation, having that self-respect,” Hurts said Tuesday. “We talk about that respect we have for our team, this team, and going out there and playing at a standard that we set out for ourselves. That’s the most important and most motivating factor.”
It’s hard to get any sort of read on Hurts, as ABC interviewer Holly Rowe discovered while trying to induce so much as a grin from the winning quarterback Sunday night.
When ESPN splashed Hurts’ Week 1 numbers on screen Monday night during the Notre Dame-Louisville telecast, Kirk Herbstreit theorized something to the effect that Hurts let the past two years pour out in one game. We can assume the same.
Hurts won’t cop to specifics about the past, but that doesn’t make him unaware. He is aware, all right. His first public words as OU quarterback in the spring were, “I understand this is a place that has a ton of great tradition, has a history of a lot of success in a lot of different areas.”
Then he went straight into: “I know that for this team this year we kind of wanted to create a new standard for ourselves, a standard that consists of having a tenacious mentality, a relentless approach in what we’re doing and really having a will of not being denied.”
So that’s fuel from both what has occurred and what still might.
“Some guys are motivated by what this can do for the future. Some guys are motivated by people that have doubted them. Some guys are motivated by the opportunity to play here,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “It comes from different spots. I think the key is you just want them all motivated.”
That goes especially for linchpins like Hurts and Murray.
“Those are two guys that have been through a lot,” Riley said. “Your history in the game is going to be a factor in how you play.”
If we’re fairly certain that’s the case with Hurts, we know it to be true with Murray.
“I realize the past doesn’t define me. I realize that this is a new year,” Murray said. “But at the same time, everything that’s said, I don’t forget. I take everything personal. That’s just the mentality I have.”
To that effect, Murray said: “My mirror is full of sticky notes. I’ve got stuff in my locker, got stuff all in my playbook. Every time I wake up and see something, I remember why I’m doing this, why I’m motivated.”
It isn’t just his past, remember, or even his present.
“I want to take care of my family,” Murray said. “I want to be in a position so that my mom and my dad don’t have to do what they have to do right now. My family is my ‘why,’ if we’re being honest.”
There is psychology to every football season, especially when late teens/young adults are the ones playing. Mind games are so critical for these guys.
Their strategies might differ, and their origins certainly do, but it seems Hurts and Murray are attacking their games as effectively as they went out and attacked Houston.