The Oklahoma football linebacker has started every game for the last three years including two trips to the College Football Playoff, so what does he think is different about this year’s team?
It’s a script Kenneth Murray has seen before.
During his trio of seasons at Oklahoma his team has more sustained success than nearly any college football program in the country: Three league titles compared to just three regular-season losses, victories over top 10 teams, two Heisman Trophy winners and another runner up.
The only thing missing from that impressive resume? A College Football Playoff win.
The Sooners came painfully close in Murray’s freshman year against Georgia, falling in a double-overtime heartbreaker. Last year they overcame a dismal start to play a competitive game against Alabama.
Murray was on both of those teams. He saw Sony Michael and Nick Chubb race past his defense on the way to 54 points in 2017. He was on the field when Tua Tagovailoa carved up the Sooner defense for 28 points in the first quarter on the way to a 45-31 win and now he’s part of the group that hopes to turn the tide and change recent postseason history for the Sooners.
“I think this is definitely the most prepared that I’ve been,” Murray said during the Peach Bowl media day press conference. “I feel like this is the most complete team that we have. Again, offense, defense, special teams, able to play complementary football.”
In the past few years, the Sooners seemed to arrive at the College Football Playoff in spite of their defense. This year, their appearance comes largely because of Murray’s side of the ball. The junior was a first-team All-Big 12 linebacker in what was hands-down his best season in Norman. His defense moved up to No. 25 in the country this season and came through in a big way down the stretch.
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Against Baylor Oklahoma allowed just 35 rushing yards and 265 total in a dominant performance to seal a 30-23 victory. A week before Oklahoma shut down rival Oklahoma State in Stillwater to pull in a 34-16 win. For the first time in the Lincoln Riley era, the Sooners have been able to lean on the defense when it’s time to put games away or even to pull the offense along when it is struggling.
When Jalen Hurts had three costly turnovers against TCU it was the Sooner defense that came up with a big turnover late to ensure the 28-24 win.
While the Sooners have seen four offenses currently ranked in the top 20 this season so far, there’s no doubt their biggest challenge still lies ahead. LSU ranks in the top five in nearly every offensive category. They have the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, the Biletnikoff Award winner at receiver and the Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line.
So how does Murray approach taking down such a formidable foe? He and his teammates will simply trust in first-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch.
“I think our coaches have done a phenomenal job giving us a game plan,” Murray said during media day. “For us, we’ll have to stay in that and not try to get outside of that. Understanding that, you know, if we do our jobs and we do our jobs effectively, we get the results we want.”