NORMAN — Jalen Hurts’ first game night at Owen Field began with a moment signifying his knack for leadership. “Crazy Train” was roaring as the Oklahoma Sooners gathered en masse at midfield in pregame, but Hurts was screaming louder than Ozzy Osbourne at his 100 some-odd teammates.
It was an impressive scene, the new starting quarterback taking command in the middle of his new home field.
It’s just 84,534 fans came to the stadium to see the new quarterback mesh with his new coach. They came to see Hurts after kickoff, not before it.
I imagine they loved what they saw.
The quarterback whose accuracy came into question during three years at Alabama completed 20 of his 23 passes.
The coach who wasn’t crazy about designed runs when Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray ran his offense turned Hurts loose. The result — 16 Hurts rushes for 176 yards.
Thomas Lott holds OU’s single-game quarterback rushing record with 195. Imagine that. Thirty years after the curtain dropped on the Sooners’ wishbone era, Hurts came within 19 yards of that era’s single-game running quarterback standard.
Lott, of course, never threw for 332 yards as Hurts did Sunday night. He never balanced three rushing touchdowns with three more through the air, as Hurts did.
So this really was something.
It was something seeing Riley play with his new toy.
Mayfield could run and throw, but he seemed to do his best work on grit and daring. Murray could drop a 65-yard dime and keep up with a cheetah. He was also 6-feet tall on his tiptoes, meaning he went into a baseball slide anytime danger lurked in the form of a head-hunting safety.
Hurts, 6-2 and 220 pounds, is built to inflict some punishment himself. He is durable enough for Riley to call quarterback draws, counters and run-pass option rollouts without fear of physical repercussions.
Hurts is also very, very fast. Not Murray fast. He isn’t going to blur by West Virginia Mountaineers and Texas Longhorns like Murray did last year.
But did you see him get to the edge on Houston’s defenders Sunday night? That’s plenty of propulsion.
It will be interesting to track Riley’s use of the quarterback run game moving forward. The season wears on a ball-carrier, no matter how strong and durable.
For the purposes of early September, though, it’s fascinating to see Riley draw up run plays for his QB like the one in Sunday’s third quarter.
As Hurts faked a handoff to running back Trey Sermon, the right side of OU’s offensive line rose and pulled around to the left, the direction Sermon headed. Hurts kept and ran right, against the grain of Houston’s pursuing defense and his own offensive line.
The play gained a first down on third-and-long. It would have been Hurts’ most determined run of the night, had he not fumbled at the very end.
Odds are Riley will run more deception like that down the road, maybe add another wrinkle, and this time Hurts won’t fumble.
It is tasty to consider the possibilities with this coach paired with this quarterback, especially now that it appears the coach has tapped into the quarterback’s passing potential.
Riley polished Mayfield on the swashbuckler’s arrival from Texas Tech. He did the same for Murray after the five-star’s transfer from Texas A&M.
Now it appears Riley has waved his wand at Hurts.
Alabama coaches swore Hurts was progressing as a thrower last year, even if nobody could see it amid Tua Tagovailoa’s emergence. Riley had something to work with, clearly.
So he went to work after Hurts’ transfer. He did whatever he does to tighten a thrower’s mechanics, whatever he does to sharpen a thrower’s vision. He drew up plays to put receivers in position to come open. He trusted this quarterback, like the two before him, would flourish.
Well, Hurts flourished Sunday night.
We’ll see where he and Riley go from here, if he can hold up in the run game and continue to go 20-of-23 through the air.
I like the odds.