OU football: For Hurts, Sooners the ‘main thing’ is much ado about improvement, not Texas

Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts warms up before the game against Kansas in Lawrence last week. Hurts wasn't happy with how he and OU played. He opened his press availability Monday with a statement expressing that. (Caitlyn Epes / For The Transcript)

Kenneth Murray says he hasn’t re-watched last year’s regular-season loss against Texas many times. But it’s on replay in the Oklahoma linebacker’s mind.

“Seeing those guys cheer on that field with that (Golden Hat) in their hand, walking off that field … I vividly remember exactly how I felt,” he said.

Murray also referred to the Longhorns as “the team down south.” But that was as far as he and two of his co-captains, quarterback Jalen Hurts and center Creed Humphrey, would allow their mouths to wander during OU’s Monday morning press conference.

Ahead of Saturday’s Red River rivalry matchup between sixth-ranked Oklahoma and 11th-ranked Texas (11 a.m., FOX), the Sooners appear to be conserving energy for the Cotton Bowl, and thus, concealing anything that might provide extra motivation for the Longhorns.

Stone-cold faces and short answers kicked off OU-Texas week. Reminiscing on last year’s game, a 48-45 Texas win that shook the OU program, was at a minimum.

Canned quotes about staying focused on this year’s OU-Texas game, which will shape the Big 12 championship and College Football Playoff race, ruled the day.

Hurts was stern after his opening statement seemingly expressing disappointment in the way OU handled itself in a 45-20 win at Kansas last week. The Sooners were up just 14-7 until scoring in the final minute before halftime.

“Looking back at this last game we played in, there is a lot of opportunity and room for growth and maturity,” Hurts said. “A lot of lessons we can learn from and will learn from. So I think the biggest thing as we go on and continue to move forward is to keep the main thing the main thing: Attacking every day and improving every day.”

“Keep the main thing the main thing” has become one of Hurts’ go-to mantras referring to focus and development. That, and apparently very little about the Longhorns, is driving OU’s approach this week.

Hurts doesn’t typically indulge many questions, but was even more buckled down a few days from his first game against Texas.

What makes a great rivalry, in Hurts’ opinion? “Everybody’s a rival,” he said. What was his recruitment process with Texas like? “Charlie Strong liked me a lot, ended up not going there.”

What were his impressions of Texas growing up in Houston? “I liked Vince Young, great player.” What specifically was it about Young that he liked? “He’s a winner and he made plays.”

What was it about Texas that didn’t suit him? “I ended up going to Alabama,” he said.

What was different about Alabama?

“I just ended up going there.”

Asked why he felt the need to begin his Q&A with a statement — a rarity for players unless they’re apologizing — Hurts said the Sooners have to keep “the main thing the main thing.” He mentioned the phrase six times in all. OU's three captains and coach Lincoln Riley used the word “focused” 18 different times between them.

Hurts, Humphrey and Murray presented a united front on this topic: All games should be created equal during the preparation process.

“I think in general, in life, when you make emotional decisions it kind of hurts you,” Hurts said. “You’ve got to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Riley didn’t say whether Hurts seemed particularly alarmed about the KU performance in their several one-on-one meetings since the game. Riley mentioned after the game he certainly likes the Sooners as a team, even though they haven’t reached their potential.

Why did Hurts feel moved to offer a statement?

“We are at a point where we need to take a jump,” Riley said. “And I think it's the sense of urgency of feeling a lot of the positives that we're seeing on tape and we want that to continue. I think it's him, and he thinks about this stuff a lot.”

Quarterbacks’ messages tend to trickle down the sideline. This week, with a one-loss Texas team trying to play its way back into the national title picture, that means no funny business.

“When you have extreme emotion … It can be a positive,” Murray said. “But I think you run a thin line when it comes to being really emotional and too emotional. If we’re too emotional to where it hurts us as a team, that’s where we have to be cautious."

Murray went on to say that in 2017, as a wide-eyed freshman playing in the Cotton Bowl for the first time, he remembered emotions were at an all-time high against Texas with the Sooners coming off an upset against Iowa State. OU won, 29-24, in a slugfest.

“It’s one of the greatest rivalries in college football. We’re blessed to be a part of it,” Murray said. “But we have to realize we can’t let our emotions get the best of us. We have to stay poised.”

Hurts echoed that statement but with a caveat.

“Look, I’ve experienced some things,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot and I appreciate every opportunity I have to play this game. I don’t take it for granted.

“Just got to prepare.”

OU vs. Texas

When: 11 a.m. Saturday

Place: Cotton Bowl | Dallas

Records: AP No. 6 OU (5-0, 2-0 Big 12); AP No. 11 Texas (4-1, 2-0)

Line: OU (-9.5)


Radio: KRXO-FM 107.7

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