It would appear that Lincoln Riley has once again worked his magic, turning another quarterback that’s transferred to Oklahama into a top candidate to win the Heisman. One glance at the raw numbers alone would not only confirm this, but also demonstrate that Riley’s work with Jalen Hurts might be his best throughout this quarterbacking trilogy, especially after the Sooners’ 55-16 victory over Texas Tech.
Saturday’s performance was perhaps the best statistical game any of these three players had put together through their first four games of the season, respectively. Hurts went 17 of 24 passing for 415 yards along with three touchdowns, and added an additional 70 yards on the ground on nine carries with one score—the current Oklahoma quarterback had a game earlier this year where he racked up six touchdowns and over 500 total yards, but that was a sloppy performance by his own admission. On top of that, the control he showed in his passes throughout this game makes it seem like Hurts isn’t simply a product of Riley’s offensive game plan, but also a technically sound player who can complete the plays demanded of him at an elite level.
But perhaps the biggest factor that will help Hurts propel into completing the Sooners’ Heisman three-peat isn’t something Oklahoma can take with them from week to week, though it’s a factor that will still be there for a majority of the season: Big 12 defenses. Believe it or not, this isn’t going to turn into some cliched drivel that amounts to “lulbig12.” No, this point has very little to do with what teams in that conference can control. The fact of the matter is that the Big 12 often features some of the nation’s top scoring and yards-producing offenses, which can force opposing defenses to run out of gas early. Spread those kinds of games throughout the course of a regular season, and most teams in the conference will see a diminishing ability to put a stop to productive offenses due to, well, being tired as shit.
Texas Tech served as an excellent example of this phenomenon on a small scale. Sure, there were moments were the Red Raiders did not do themselves any favors to live up to the stereotype of the Big 12's poor defense, like when a Tech defensive back didn’t know what to do with his body on this deep throw to Charleston Rambo, and his teammates didn’t do anything but stand there:
Or when three defenders surrounded Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb and none of them made a tackle:
Or around 10 minutes of game time later when three more Texas Tech defenders just forgot how to tackle Sooners running back Jeremiah Hall (alright, I’m sensing a pattern here):
But by the time the second half rolled around, it began to look like there was some serious cases of exhaustion sprinkled within the general incompetence of the Red Raiders’ attempts at defending.
Not every game is going to be this easy—especially when Oklahoma faces its Red River rivals, currently ranked No. 11, in Dallas* on Oct. 12—but some form of this end-game sloppiness is the natural end result of having the best coach in the conference teaching a talent like Hurts how to bomb opposing defenses with big plays until their bodies just give up trying. Does this strategy still require successful execution on Hurts’s part? Certainly! But the degree of damage that it does could not really happen in any other conference the way it happens in the Big 12, as former Riley disciples like Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray could also tell you.
We questioned last time how much of Hurts’s future Sooner success is a result of his individual talent, and how much of it is Riley having the Midas touch for players in that position (answer: somewhere in between), so it’s fair to ask similar questions about other aspects surrounding his career to get a more direct answer. That answer will be more concrete by season’s end, but some assumptions can be safely made now if this pace keeps up. Hurts is probably already aware of the reality of this conference boost, which might explain why he decided to take to the weight room shortly after his afternoon rout.
If what killed Hurts’s tenure as an Alabama quarterback was an inability to command respect from opponents with shaky play, perhaps his insane dedication to working out after grueling games of football will help him do just that.