Jalen Hurts’ early numbers surpass previous Sooner Heisman winners

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 14: Jalen Hurts #1 of the Oklahoma Sooners breaks free from the pocket on a run during the first half of a game against the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl on September 14, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 14: Jalen Hurts #1 of the Oklahoma Sooners breaks free from the pocket on a run during the first half of a game against the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl on September 14, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

Since Lincoln Riley found his way to Norman, the Oklahoma football offense has been in a class by itself. The Sooners have led the nation in total offense for two years running now and is well on its way to do so again this season.

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It’s no coincidence that the span of time to which we’re referring parallels the head-coaching reign of Riley at the University of Oklahoma.

It’s still early in the 2019 season, but through three games, the prolific OU offense leads all FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) teams in five offensive categories, is tied for the lead in another and ranks second in two others.

The Sooners rank No. 1 in total offense (676.7 yards per game), yards per play (10.5), yards per rush (8.3), yards per pass attempt (13.7) and pass efficiency rating (244.7).

OU is tied with LSU for best completion percentage (77.9) and ranks second nationally in scoring offense (55.7), third-down conversion percentage (59 percent) and rushing offense (324.3 yards per game).

What is most interesting about this recent run of offensive supremacy is that it has come with three different Oklahoma starting quarterbacks leading the charge.

With Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts serving as field general this season, Oklahoma is averaging an eye-popping 0.82 yards per offensive play. By comparison, the highest season-ending figure, dating back to 1996 (the first year of the Big 12) was 0.688. With Hurts at the controls, the Sooners are putting points on the scoreboard on 69 percent of its drives and 63 percent of them have ended up in touchdowns.

The 2019 season began with Clemson sophomore quarterback Trevor Lawrence and  Tua Tagovailoa, the player who replaced Hurts as the starter at Alabama, being the clear front runners for this season’s Heisman Trophy. Since that time, however, Hurts’ sensational first three games has vaulted the Sooner QB into the 2019 Heisman Watch lead.

The past two Heisman’s have been awarded to Oklahoma quarterbacks (Baker Mayfield in 2017 and Kyler Murray in 2018), and Hurts is vying to become an unprecedented third consecutive Sooner quarterback, and fifth in 16 years, to win college football’s most prestigious individual award. Jason White won the Heisman in 2003 and Sam Bradford won the award in 2008).

Oklahoma Sooners Football
Oklahoma Sooners Football /

Oklahoma Sooners Football

When you compare Hurts’ performance so far this season with the numbers of the four previous Sooner QBs through the first three games in their Heisman seasons, the former Alabama quarterback’s statistical lines clearly stand out. Through the first three games, Hurts’ numbers are better than the other four in seven statistical measures: completion percentage (80.3), yards per pass attempt (14.4), quarterback rating (250.2), rushing yards per game (124.3), rushing TDs (4), total offense (1,253) and total TDs (13).

The only categories where Hurts’ three-game numbers were not the highest were total passing yards (Baker Mayfield had 1,046), passing yards per game (again, Baker Mayfield was best with a 348.7 average) and passing TDs/Int. ratio ( Baker Mayfield, 10/0; although Hurts is 9/0 through three games).

It shouldn’t really be a surprise that Jalen Hurts is putting up the numbers he is at Oklahoma given his physical skills and experience. After all, he was 26-2 as the starting quarterback at Alabama and played in the College Football Playoff National Championship all three seasons he was there, starting in two of them. He was the first freshman quarterback to start a game under head coach Nick Saban, and he was named SEC Freshman of the Year and a freshman All-American that season (2016).

Oklahoma begins Big 12 play this weekend. It will be interesting to see how Hurts progresses from this point forward, with the level of competition expected to become stronger. One thing is for certain: Lincoln Riley has full confidence in his quarterback, but he also knows he wants to and needs to get better in some areas.

"“The stuff we’ve displayed, that’s not complete football,” Hurts said after the Sooners’ 34-point win over UCLA. “That’s not what we want to do. We can be better.”"

That’s the kind of player and person he is. He knows that good simply isn’t good enough when the going gets tougher, which it will now that the schedule has crossed over into Big 12 play. And Hurts should know, having played in plenty of big games and on plenty of big stages over the past three seasons.

Whether or not he goes on to win the Heisman this season, Hurts’ leadership — he was voted one of four teams captains by his teammates, despite this being his only season at OU —  and commitment to continued improvement, combined with his can-do, never-quit attitude, are competitive advantages he brings to Oklahoma in the quarterback’s role that could be just what the Sooners need to get past the national semifinal round for the first time in the last three seasons and into the national championship game.