OU football: Lincoln Riley, Jalen Hurts' navigation of transfer process has Oklahoma back among Heisman finalists

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts runs with the ball against Oklahoma State, Nov. 30 at Boone Picken Stadium in Stillwater.

Lincoln Riley strongly emphasized quarterback Jalen Hurts’ impact in Norman during his one and only season with Oklahoma.

“What he’s been able to do... Every part of this is new to him, every single part,” Riley said last month. “Every opponent is new. The offense is new. New plays, new program, new coaches, new teammates. Doing it with a basically new offensive line. I mean, it’s all new.”

OU will have a Heisman Trophy finalist in New York City for the fourth consecutive season. Officially, the Sooners have a chance to bring the award to Norman for the third year in a row when it’s announced Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN).

Unofficially, Hurts is a long shot after being selected as a finalist alongside LSU quarterback Joe Burrow, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and Ohio State defensive back Chase Young on Monday.

Hurts, who played his first three seasons at Alabama, is a heavy underdog with Burrow the frontrunner. BetOnline.ag gave Hurts 20/1 odds — last among the finalists — in the final week of the regular season; he was fifth in CBS’ latest Heisman watch and fourth in ESPN’s.

It’s unlikely he will follow up Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray’s feats from 2017 and 2018. But Monday's announcement provided a window to evaluate the marriage that began between Hurts and Riley last offseason.

The same could be said for others in the race. Burrow (Ohio State) and Fields (Georgia) also transferred to their current schools, in a year the transfer portal and the NCAA's waiver policy have created a seismic shift in college football.

With Hurts, OU set a new record with five finalists in four years, all under Riley. All were transfers: Mayfield (twice), Murray, receiver Dede Westbrook.

Developing another key offensive talent paid off again.

“It’s been fun. There was an adjustment from Baker to Kyler, and an adjustment here. I knew there would be,” Riley said. “Whoever’s the quarterback next year, there will be an adjustment to them too. You’ve got to fit it to what they do well. I think we’ve found our way in some respects and in some respects we’re still learning. I think we’ll continue to find more and more things that will not only fit him but our whole offense.”

Hurts’ 13 turnovers —7 interceptions and 6 lost fumbles — and OU’s loss to Kansas State back in October are factors that curtail his odds of winning the Heisman.

Those who measure Hurts against Murray and Mayfield often start with their arms, and generally quantify Hurts’ impact by his experience and physical running style. He has not been the surgical passer his predecessors were.

But Hurts has made personal strides in that area under Riley.

His 71.8 percent completion rate is up 11 points from his numbers in 2017 and nine points from 2016. His 3,634 passing yards are also a career high. His 11.8 yards per pass attempt and 16.4 yards per completion currently lead the nation.

Among active players, his 200.3 passer rating is second behind Burrow (201.5) this season, and Hurts is the only FBS player since 1996 to put up a 245.0 passer rating or better during five games in a season.

He has accounted for 4,889 total yards of offense, third nationally, and a nation-leading 50 total touchdowns at OU this fall. That includes 32 passing touchdowns.

“He actually beat us with his feet,” LSU coach Ed Oregeron said, recalling past games against Hurts. “He made big plays with his feet.”

Hurts has leaned on that skill as much as any at OU, and will get another shot against LSU when he and Burrow meet in the College Football Playoff on Dec. 28.

At 1,255 yards rushing and 18 TDs, Hurts needs two more scores and 35 more yards to break OU's season record for a quarterback (Jack Mildren, 1971).

“I love having mobile guys,” Riley said, “and I think being able to run the quarterback some here and there is a great thing to be able to do offensively. But to say we’d have a guy that would rush for that many yards, I probably would have lost that bet.”

Hurts is OU’s 11th finalist selection out of eight different players who’ve been chosen since 1982, a number that leads the nation. Brian Bosworth (1986), Josh Heupel (2000), Jason White (2003, ’04), Adrian Peterson (2004), Sam Bradford (2008), Dede Westbrook (2016), Mayfield (2016, ’17) and Murray (2018) are Sooners who’ve been in the running previously.


Heisman Trophy presentation

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Place: New York City

TV: ESPN

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