Oklahoma football: First take on new OU QB Dillon Gabriel

Apr 23, 2022; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Dillon Gabriel (8) throws a pass during the spring game at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 23, 2022; Norman, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Dillon Gabriel (8) throws a pass during the spring game at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports /

The day was all about Baker Mayfield, but all eyes on Saturday were on new Oklahoma football quarterback Dillon Gabriel.

For the first time since his transfer to OU, Sooner fans were able to see Gabriel in action and get a glimpse of what it is going to be like in the fall with Gabriel directing the new offensive system being installed by offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby.

A record crowd of over 75,000 fans showed up for the OU Red-White spring game, the most ever for an Oklahoma spring game and the most for any game anywhere in the country this spring.

It also marked the largest crowd Gabriel has ever played before. The UCF transfer, who came very close to playing for UCLA this year instead of Oklahoma, was the quarterback for both sides for most of the opening half of the Sooner spring game.

It was an unveiling for both Venables and the new Sooner coaching staff post-Lincoln Riley and for Gabriel, the new Oklahoma starting quarterback — the sixth starting quarterback for the Sooners in as many seasons.

Gabriel was on the field for most of the opening half in Saturday’s spring game, culminating several weeks of spring practice. He was the quarterback for both the Red and White teams, completing 19 of 28 passes for 250 yards, a touchdown pass and an interception for his afternoon’s work.

Marvin Mims, who caught Gabriel’s touchdown pass, a 33-yard strike, said the only thing the new Oklahoma quarterback was focused on at halftime was his lone mistake of the day, the ball he threw that was picked off by Sooner sophomore defensive back Kendall Dennis. “Definitely that shows who he is,” Mims told reporters after the game. “Every opportunity he gets, he’s going to want to make the most of it.”

Given there were heavy wind gusts throughout the afternoon and that it was the first official game-style scrimmage for the Sooners with a new quarterback and a new offensive scheme, in front of practically a full house, like will be the case in the fall, Gabriel’s performance was impressive.

He did have the one interception and a couple of his throws were behind the receivers, but there is no question that he has the talent, accuracy and arm strength to be one of the best quarterbacks in the Big 12 in the coming season, especially with the weapons he will have around him at OU.

One thing that immediately stood out on Saturday and also caught the attention of head coach Brent Venables was Gabriel’s composure and command of the offense.

"“He’s like a stealth bomber, man,” Venables said about Gabriel in his comments after the game. “He’s like an assassin. He really is. He didn’t let any circumstances affect him."

“I loved his command. Such a selfless guy,” the OU head coach said of his starting quarterback. “The game’s easy for him in so many ways. Good decision maker. Quick decision maker. Plays with great anticipation.”

The Sooners should be in excellent hands with Gabriel at quarterback when the games start for real in the fall. The bigger concern is the lack of experience behind him in the quarterback room as the roster currently stands. The most experienced quarterback on the roster is Ralph Rucker, who as a true freshman walk-on a year ago threw a total of two passes for 20 yards in the second game of the season against Western Carolina.

Venables acknowledged after the spring game on Saturday that he may explore the transfer portal to strengthen OU’s backup spot at quarterback, especially in the event that Gabriel would sustain an injury. May 1 is the deadline for entering the portal and having immediate eligibility for the 2022 season.

Gabriel is well aware of the high expectations for the quarterback position at Oklahoma and for Sooner football in general. He’s not one to shy away from the spotlight, but he is humble and highly composed and confident in how he goes about it. He is the right fit for the Oklahoma quarterback position who came around at just the right time for the Sooners.

"“People care about this place. Something I’ve realized is, this is special,” Gabriel said. “I’ve played football a lot, been around football my entire life, but this is something that can’t be replicated.”"