Oklahoma football: Promises, pitfalls surrounding Jackson Arnold

Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

The highly anticipated quarterback start by five-star recruit Jackson Arnold, the player expected to lead the Oklahoma football offense for at least the next two years, featured a mixed bag of good and bad.

The true freshman Arnold had played only sparingly in the 2023 season, serving as backup to Dillon Gabriel, who started every Oklahoma game in the regular season. Gabriel, however, opted for the transfer portal ahead of the Sooners' bowl appearance and has committed to Oregon. That opened the door for Arnold's first career start as a Sooner.

Arnold's Alamo Bowl performance -- 26 of 45 passing for 361 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions and a lost fumble -- was probably worthy of a C grade at best. Not a particularly sparkling start for a player projected as a future star. But to write off the former Gatorade National Player of the Year coming out of high school as a bust on the basis of just one game would be an extreme overreaction.

Arnold had a rough game for sure, but Sooner head coach Brent Venables has no less confidence today than he had in Arnold before the Alamo Bowl game.

"Jackson (Arnold) had many things tonight that was (sic) just fantastic," the OU head coach said in his postgame Alamo Bowl comments. "He had some phenomenal moments tonight and gave us a chance going into the fourth quarter having a chance to win."

"He's going to have a fantastic future. We've got to be a little better around him."

Brent Venables on Jackson Arnold

Unfortunately, along with all the good, there were also some bad moments, perhaps not atypical for a first-year player making his first start and in a big game against a quality opponent.

Arnold's first two interceptions came in two of the Sooners' first three possessions in the Alamo Bowl game. Both were underthrown and meant for Drake Stoops and forced into tight windows The third one was a short slant route across the middle. On the play, an Arizona linebacker stepped unseen by Arnold inside the passing lane to may the interception. The Sooners also coughed up the ball on three possessions, one of which was by Arnold on a strip sack late in the game.

The Alamo Bowl will truly be a learning experience for Arnold, which will most certainly make him a better player going forward. Better he experience that adversity now and grow from it than have it happen next season when Oklahoma's schedule will be considerably more difficult and against SEC teams that are the equal or even better then Arizona.

Venables was seen on the sidelines during the Alamo Bowl game having what presumably were some teaching moments with his freshman quarterback. The OU head coach was asked after the game what he said to Arnold:

"We've got your back. Don't throw late across the middle. You can't go broke taking a profit (taking the short completions the defense gives you). And you don't have to try to win the game all in one play."

Brent Venables to Jackson Arnold

Arnold showed off the phenomenal skill that made him one of the top two quarterbacks in the 2023 recruiting cycle nationally. He has a strong throwing arm (displayed on the 63-yard touchdown pass to Brenan Thompson) and is highly accurate (seen on a number of tight completions, including the touchdown pass to Nic Anderson that put OU on top 14-13 in the second quarter.

"Obviously, there's things that went bad tonight, but just learn to keep my head up and keep playing through it, no matter what," Arnold told reporters who asked after the Alamo Bowl what he will take away from the game.

Oklahoma's outstanding linebacker Danny Stutsman was seen embracing Arnold after the game and was asked what he shared with the Sooners' quarterback of the future. "Jackson is a baller, and we have full faith in him, Stutsman said.

"Jackson is a baller, and we have faith in him. First career start, he played his heart out. I love him to death. Oklahoma has his back, the entire locker room is with Jackson, and this changes nothing."

OU LB Danny Stutsman

One game does not define Jackson Arnold any more than it defines Oklahoma football and what the Sooners' immediate future will be in the new world order that begins next season.