'He’s making history': How Jalen Hurts can leap past Baker Mayfield & Kyler Murray in OU football lore
ATLANTA — Jalen Hurts commands respect in this part of the country.
Our part of the country, too, but maybe even more down South. Hurts’ winning at Alabama, his performance in the same Mercedes-Benz Stadium that Saturday hosts the Peach Bowl, his SEC pedigree, his stoic consistency amid adversity. That plays well in Dixie.
Even the LSU players who have talked a little smack this week reserve some reverence for Hurts. And their coach is effusive in praising the Oklahoma quarterback.
“I'm so proud of him,” said Ed Orgeron, who was on the losing end of two Bama-LSU games quarterbacked by Hurts. “Obviously, I know his history … we were talking about him this morning, the 10-0 game, it's 0-0 going into the fourth quarter and he makes two tremendous plays to win the game. His character, his grit, his determination … getting to know a little bit about him and the way he fought, I couldn't be more proud of the guy, to be honest with you.”
Funny, but back in Oklahoma, the esteem for Hurts might not rise as high, even though Lincoln Riley waves palm branches and Hurts’ teammates sing his praises.
“Transferring from Alabama to Oklahoma, I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like this,” said fullback Jeremiah Hall. “He’s making history, and we’ll look back on it in a few years and be like, ‘wow.’”
But with the Sooner masses? With the tens of thousands of OU fans who cheered on Hurts at Owen Field? With the hundreds of thousands from Quapaw to Quartz Mountain who live and die via the Sooner gridiron?
Hurts is a hero. Hurts is lauded for showing up and taking a prized mantle.
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But he’s not sacrosanct. Hurts didn’t steal Oklahomans’ heart, ala Baker Mayfield. Didn’t win the Heisman, like Mayfield and Kyler Murray. Isn’t going to be the overall No. 1 NFL Draft pick, like Mayfield and Murray.
And the second half of this 2019 season, Hurts’ game has been scrutinized and sterilized. He left the gate throwing like Sam Bradford and hits the homestretch running like Jack Mildren. Both traits are special, but in the 21st century, the former is preferred.
“I said from Day One that I have a standard for myself and I wanted to be the best version of myself,” Hurts said. “Whatever people said I couldn’t or wouldn’t do never mattered.”
Can we agree that Hurts indeed has become the best version of himself? In his first three OU games, he threw 12 incompletions and nine touchdowns. Through seven games, Hurts completed 74 percent of his passes with 20 TDs and three interceptions. Surveyors were dispatched to Jenkins Avenue to mark space for another Heisman Park statue.
But since, Hurts’ passing numbers have gone from inhuman to merely superb: .697 completion percentage, 12 touchdowns, four interceptions. Hurts has turned into OU’s primary ballcarrier, with 135 runs the last six games. That’s 22.5 carries per game. That’s more than Billy Sims averaged his final two seasons.
So he’s not Mayfield or Murray. Who else is?
“I think his maturity has shown in that he hasn't tried to be those guys,” Riley said. “He's been in big moments. He's been in big games, big scenarios. I don't feel like that was much of a factor with him, which as a coach, that's exactly how you would hope he would handle it.”
But Hurts can do something neither Mayfield nor Murray did: get the Sooners past the College Football Playoff semifinals. Mayfield lost as a sophomore to Clemson in the Orange Bowl and as a senior to Georgia in a double-overtime Rose Bowl. Murray lost last season to Alabama in the Orange Bowl.
Beat LSU, and Hurts’ status will know no bounds in the Sooner State.
“Overall, it’s a great story,” said OU safety Brendan Radley-Hiles. “He’s one of the most mature guys I’ve ever been around. A great brother. He’s just a guy you want to be around.
“If you know football and you know the struggles and the ups and downs and the adversity that he’s been through throughout his career at Alabama … when he came here, it was something that was up in the air. He didn’t know how it was going to land. But I feel like he took his destiny into his own hands. Him and Lincoln Riley was a great collaboration.”
Bradford, Mildren, Mayfield, Murray, Sims. Lots of Sooner legends are brought into discussions about Jalen Hurts. Here’s a couple more. Jamelle Holieway and Josh Heupel. JH and JH. Both quarterbacked the Sooners to national championships. Another JH has the chance to do the same, and if so, Heisman winners Mayfield and Murray will be in Hurts’ shadow, not the other way around.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.