Tramel: Eagles starting Jalen Hurts gives Sooners coach Lincoln Riley some rare NFL bragging rights
A little after 1 p.m. Sunday, Baker Mayfield threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Rashard Higgins. It was Mayfield’s fourth TD pass of the first half, tying Otto Graham’s Cleveland record.
A few minutes after 3 p.m., Kyler Murray dropped back and fired a deep ball down the middle that tight end Dan Arnold caught and turned into a 59-yard touchdown for the Arizona Cardinals.
A little before 6 p.m., Jalen Hurts, given a chance to quarterback more than a play or two in a row, scrambled away from the Packer pass rush and threw a beautiful pass that Greg Ward Jr. caught on the run in the end zone, a 32-yard touchdown.
In the span of five hours, three Lincoln Riley quarterbacks threw NFL touchdown passes. Riley’s last three OU quarterbacks. Riley’s last three OU quarterbacks over the last three years.
“Pretty cool,” Riley said. “It's not like they all had three- and four-year careers here. Really as a starter, only Baker did. Pretty cool to see those guys there and having success that early in their careers.”
And now Hurts joins his two immediate predecessors as NFL starters. The Eagles announced Tuesday that Hurts would start against the New Orleans Saints.
“We're not where we want to be as an offense," Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson said on the team's website. "I looked at the whole thing and decided that for this week, to look for that spark again, to try to get the team over the hump, to try to get everybody playing better."
Mayfield is the Browns’ franchise quarterback, though he hasn’t played great this season. His huge first half, against the sturdy Titans, was a huge boost to Mayfield’s stock. Cleveland now is 9-3 and a virtual lock for the American Conference playoffs.
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Murray is the Cardinals’ franchise quarterback, and though Arizona now has lost three straight to fall to 6-6, Murray is considered a rising star.
Only Hurts has not yet established himself. But the struggling Eagles finally had enough of Carson Wentz’s struggles and allowed Hurts to quarterback most of the second half against Green Bay, an eventual 30-16 defeat.
Pederson didn’t show his cards after the game Sunday night, but the elevation of Hurts was expected.
Hurts is not a conventional NFL quarterback. Yes, he’s a mobile quarterback who also is solid. Hard to corral, hard to bring down. The Packers flushed him from the pocket eight times Sunday, but five times Hurts turned scrambles into positive yardage (gaining 29 yards) and the three sacks he took didn’t cost much (a total of five yards in losses).
But Hurts’ arm strength is not anything like Mayfield’s or Murray’s. Hurts throws a good deep ball, and there’s something to be said for that, but the sideline patterns, the throws that sometimes travel 30 yards to make 10, can be a challenge. Hurts bounced a couple of those Sunday.
“I think Jalen's a plenty good enough thrower to do well in that league,” Riley said. “And obviously, he brings a lot of other qualities. His leadership, his athleticism and physicality in running the football that makes him tough to defend. So, like anybody, it's going to be about getting a scheme that fits him and then getting enough weapons around that these guys can go attack.”
Hurts’ numbers weren’t great, unless compared to Wentz’s. Hurts completed five of 12 for 109 yards, the touchdown and a late interception when the Eagles were on the desperate side. Wentz completed six of 15 for 79 yards, plus took four sacks for 22 yards in losses.
The Philadelphia problem is that the Eagles, at 3-8-1, are just a game-and-a-half out of first place. Pederson has to balance discovering Hurts’ potential with the Eagles’ desire for 2020 success. Not that the two are mutually exclusive.
Three quarterbacks from the same school firing touchdowns on the same NFL Sunday is not unprecedented. Without too much research, I found at least two examples.
1972: Purdue’s Bob Griese, Len Dawson and Mike Phipps, on the same NFL weekend.
2009: Southern Cal’s Carson Palmer, Matt Cassell and Mark Sanchez.
There probably are more. But these are heady days for OU. The Sooners built a national brand using option offenses (Bud Wilkinson’s split-T, Barry Switzer’s wishbone) that didn’t produce NFL quarterbacks.
Between the likes of Beryl Clark, Hugh McCullough and Jack Jacobs in pre-World War II days, and Sam Bradford a decade ago, the only NFL quarterback from OU was Troy Aikman, who had transferred to UCLA to flee the wishbone.
Now two of the NFL’s 20 or so franchise quarterbacks are Sooners, with Hurts headed for an audition. Autumn Sundays could be more fun than ever in Oklahoma for quite some time.
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. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.