I just spent the morning watching the then 7th ranked Oklahoma Sooners (7-1) take on the Texas Tech Red Raiders (5-3) at Lubbock—-the nationally televised Big 12 barn burner on a Saturday night in early November.
I have posted the link for the game above—-and if you want an inside feel for Kilff Kingsbury’s vaunted offense, plus a close look at the top NFL prospects in this game (QB Kyler Murray, WR Marquise Brown, RT Cody Ford and WR Antoine Wesley)—-this is likely to whet your imagination.
The start of this game was, without a doubt, the worst first two possessions of Kyler Murray’s career—-as he threw 2 interceptions that enabled the Red Raiders to jump out to a 14-0 lead. Murray had only 7 interceptions the entire season as opposed to 42 TDs, thus it was fascinating to see how Murray was able to maintain his composure and get the offense and himself back on track.
On the flip side, this was the best first half of Texas Tech’s QB Alan Bowman’s career. Bowman, an 18 year old true freshman, came onto the scene early in the season after starter junior McLane Carter suffered a high ankle sprain. Bowman, was injured a few games later and in this game was coming back from a punctured lung which he incurred in the West Virginia game.
At the half, the Red Raiders ran into the locker room with a 31-28 lead thanks in large part to Bowman’s precision passing (21/26/227yds./80.8%/8.7ave./2-TDs/O-INTs/0-sacks) and Antoine Wesley’s receiving (12/199/16.6 for the game—-much of it in the 1st half).
Right before the end of the half, however, Bowman got up slowly after being hit from the side on a goal line running play. When he came out to warm up for the second half, he made on throw and cringed—-and then was taken to the locker room for further evaluation.
Bowman had re-injured his lung and would not only miss the second half or this game, he was lost for the remaining three games.
What a tough blow for the Red Raiders and for head coach Kliff Kingsbury—-Bowman was hot as a firecracker and the rabid Texas Tech fans had every reason to believe that their Red Raiders were going to upset the Sooners.
What was amazing to me, was that despite turning to backup QB Jett Duffey, who is more talented as a runner than as a passer—-the Red Raiders were right in the game to the very end. Duffey wound up passing for 9/15/139yds/52.9%/8.2ave/2-TDs/0-INTs/2-sacks and rushing for 47 yards and 1 TD.
Kyler Murray was off on his passing in the first half, but what he did was, he got into the flow of the game by running the football (11/100/9.1/1-TD). That seemed to settle him down and then the passing numbers started to mount—-winding up with 20/35/360yds./57.4%/3-TDs/2-INTs.
The major debate about Murrray is his lack of size and smallish frame—-and yes those are legitimate concerns. However, he only had one pass batted down in this game, which was his 6th in 9 games. Secondly, Murray is a Houdini at avoiding big hits. He is so quick that he scoots out of bounds or slides underneath tackles without taking a beating. This is where he uses his diminutive size and elite quickness to his advantage.
What I admire most about him is his supreme competitiveness and leadership. He is the ultimate teammate. Not just for his fellow offensive players, but for the defensive players. Late in this game he was on the bench consoling one of the freshman CBs who had just given up a costly pass interference flag in the end zone of Antoine Wesley, which made the score 42-40 Oklahoma.
Kliff Kingsbury said about Murray that he had never seen him have one bad game in high school or thus far at Oklahoma. In Murray’s two losses—-here were his stats:
Texas 19/26/304/73.1%/4-TDs/1-INT passing + 11/92/8.4/1-TD rushing
Alabama 19/37/308/51.4/2-TD/0-INT passing + 17/109/6.4/1-TD rushing
Having lost to Texas in the regular season, here’s Murray response in the Big 12 Championship game versus Texas: 25/34/379yds./73.5%/3-TD/0-INT + 10/39 rushing.
What is going to get Murray drafted in the top 10 of this year’s draft is his electric play in the red zone. If you give him any crease to run through, he is gone in a flash. Plus, he has outstanding touch on fade routes, skinny posts and back shoulder throws.
As for his teammates in this game, RT Cody Ford had an up and down game and didn’t look athletic enough to be an Air Raid type offensive lineman. Many pundits are projecting him to play guard in the NFL—-but he kind of lumbers in space and when he pulls. He has good point of attack strength and a strong base which on several occasions helped spring RB Trey Sermon on chunk yard runs, including the game winner.
Marquise Brown made his fair share of mistakes in this game—-dropping a sure TD on a perfectly thrown deep post pass from Murray. Brown has blazing speed, but he seems to get dinged up a lot and might not hold up catching ball from the slot in the NFL.
One Sooner who caught my eye was RG Dru Samia (6-5, 295). He’s good good length and looks naturally athletic when he pulls and blocks on the 2nd level. In the running game, he plays good angles and seals his blocks well.
Watching this game gave me an added understanding of Kliff Kingsbury’s offense and his in-game coaching style.
- He plays to the strengths of his personnel—-in this game he had a package of plays for WR Antoine Wesley (who would be a superb round 3 or 4 selection for the Cardinals), many of which were designed to isolate him on the Sooner’s weakest CB.
- Kingsbury often prefers alignments with 3 WRs and 2 RBs, so that he can run a good deal of motion and misdirection plays. In this game, he did a great job of getting his fast RB Da’Leon Ward the ball on the perimeter via sweeps, counters and flares and throwback screens where he could use his speed to his advantage. Kingsbury like his RBs to play fast.
- Loves throwing fades and back shoulder passes.
- He will go into a spread, 5 WRs when he wants to isolate a coverage mismatch.
- He plays the games to win. Twice with the score 42-34 Oklahoma he went for it on 4th down in the red zone,—-these were a 4th and 7 and a 4th and 5. A FG gets them within 42-37 (5 points) with 6 minutes left.
- Even with his backup QB, he goes for it and on both occasions they convert, the second on a nifty dig route to a receiver who hadn’t caught a pass all game—-that made the score 42-40.
- He goes for 2 to try to tie the game—-and called a WR reverse pass which was well designed, but played perfectly by a Sooner DB who picked the pass off ran 104 yards with it for 2 points to make it 44-40.
- With 6 minutes left—-Kingsbury goes for the on-side kick, but Lincoln Riley (also a Texas Tech grad) got a timeout in just before the kick.
If Alan Bowman been able to play in the 2nd half, Texas Tech could have had the stunning upset, which would have made them bowl eligible ——and with a true freshman QB all is looking up.
If Texas Tech gets the upset, chance are Kyler Murray would not have won the Heisman and they would never have won the #4 seed in the FBS Semis.
If Murray doesn’t win the Heisman and take the Sooners to the national semi-finals, chances are he focuses all his attention on having a big spring training with the Oakland A’s.
Who would have guessed on that November night that Kliff Kingsbury would get fired by Texas Tech, hired by USC to be their new OC and then get hired by the Arizona Cardinals to be their new head coach?
And who would have guessed that 5-9, 195 Kyler Murray would become the buzz of the 2019 NFL Draft?
After watching this game (and others of its kind), it’s amazing that Texas Tech let Kingsbury go. In this game, his team played so hard and competitively in all three phases of the game. His defense was very aggressive, but lacked the horses up front and their best ILB Dakota Allen was trying to play with a cast on his hand and couldn’t manage it.
Be sure of one thing—-the other coaches in the Big 12 breathed a huge sigh of relief when they heard Kingsbury was let go.
Lincoln Riley has become one of the hottest NFL head coach prospects—-and why not? His offenses are well worth the price of season tickets.
At the end of the game, Kyler Murray sprinted out to the middle of the field to shake Kingsbury’s hand and share a few words. A whole lot of mutual respect and admiration going on there.
It doesn’t mean the Cardinals will draft Murray—-but the way Kliff Kinsgbury skillfully managed to get his true freshman QB ready to shine in a game of this magnitude and then managed to get 200 yards and 2 fourth quarter TDs from his 3rd string dual-threat QB, bodes well for Josh Rosen, Mike Glennon, Chad Kanoff and all of Kinsgbury’s present and future QBs in Arizona.
FYI—-this game took place on the very day that Cardinals released former Sooner and Heisman Trophy winner, Sam Bradford. Hmmm. Do you believe in harbingers?
Talk about a day of fates.