OU football: Lincoln Riley has enjoyed incorporating Jalen Hurts' run ability into Oklahoma's offense

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts runs with the ball during the Sooners' game against TCU last week at Owen Field.

“I feel fine. I feel fine.”

“I’m all right. I’m OK.”

Jalen Hurts stood behind a dais Monday with a flesh-colored bandage around his right index finger and scabbed-up grass burns along that same wrist, insisting he’s held up from the physical toll that comes with running the ball so often.

Around the same time, about two hours away in Stillwater, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said he had been up until 2:30 a.m. that morning going over the numbers.

He listed off career-average carry totals from notable Oklahoma quarterbacks, many of them from the Sooners’ triple-option era: Thomas Lott, J.C. Watts, Charles Thompson, Steve Davis, Jamelle Holieway, Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray.

None of those players carried the ball as much as current Sooner quarterback Jalen Hurts has in a single season. He’s at 180 attempts going into Saturday’s Bedlam clash at OSU (7 p.m., FOX).

“They’re a wishbone team, guys. They’re just lined up in the spread,” Gundy said.

That’s a subjective statement, but Gundy’s on the right track.

OU’s offense has leaned on Hurts’ legs in a way even coach Lincoln Riley couldn’t have predicted earlier in the year, when he surmised Hurts would not only not be the Sooners’ leading rusher, but probably shouldn’t be.

Now, Hurts is positioned to lead OU in that category and break records in the process. With 1,156 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns he’ll almost surely surpass Jack Mildren’s program rushing mark for a quarterback with 1,289 yards and 20 scores in 1971.

Hurts has cranked himself into a workhorse the past two weeks, totaling season-high carries of 27 and 28 against Baylor and TCU, respectively.

While it’s been an adjustment for some of those watching, Riley has no qualms with the resulting production and seems to have enjoyed tinkering with what Hurts — a physically imposing runner at 6 feet 2, 218 pounds — brings to the table.

“It’s been fun,” Riley said. “There was an adjustment from Baker to Kyler, and an adjustment here. I knew there would be. Whoever’s the quarterback next year, there will be an adjustment to them too. You’ve got to fit it to what they do well.”

Hurts’ ability to pick up yards with his legs hasn’t surprised anyone. That it’s been used so frequently, though, has. Murray was a lethal runner too, but much smaller at 5 feet 10, 195 pounds, the injury risk was higher. He ran the ball 119 times in 12 games.

Riley noted that Hurts has been especially durable, and there don’t seem to be any complaints from the quarterback himself about how much he’s running — Hurts has a choice to keep it himself on an indistinguishable number of plays.

“I always felt like he was going to run it more for us this year and probably a little more than what we’d done with the other guys. That wasn’t a surprise,” Riley said, noting backfield depth and number of plays affected the scheme early in the season. “You can never sit there at the beginning of the year and perfectly lay it out, and we’ve still got a long ways to go here too. But I like how it’s evolved. I think it’s made our run game a little more versatile.”

Gundy took things a step further, perhaps inadvertently rattling the Sooners’ cage while noting 449 of OU’s 928 offensive plays have been through Hurts. The next closest is running back Kennedy Brooks at 114.

“It’s a one-man show,” Gundy said. “This is a triple-option team disguised as the spread. You’ve got to tackle [Hurts], you’ve got to make plays on him. I mean, it’s a one-man show.”

OU is choosing to put the game in Hurts’ hands sometimes to a fault. He’s been responsible for 11 of the Sooners’ 16 turnovers. OU fell to 116th nationally in turnover ratio this week.

That’s just the cost of doing business, Hurts says, though he wants to clean up his ball security.

A benefit has been OU's recent ability to control time of possession. In last week's second half, he carried the ball 17 times — that's as much or more as he attempted in seven entire games this season.

The big pass plays that were so prevalent the first seven games are going to return at some point, Riley believes.

“We had three or four the other night that we probably combined miss by about four feet that were all monster, monster plays. Those will come,” he said. “We’re going to continue to hit those and make a lot of big plays. But having the ability at the end of the season to move the ball, chew a lot of clock, dominate play numbers, I mean total play numbers, those have obviously been a big factor the last couple weeks and we'll need both going forward."

Does he still wish Hurts’ carry totals were lower? Yes.

“But that’s part of who he is as a player,” Riley said. “It’s not like whatever he’s got right now, 170-180 [carries], it’s not like he’s got that for 500 yards right now. He’s extremely, extremely effective. It’s been good. Our backs have been really involved here the past couple weeks getting them involved, but Jalen carrying it is going to be part of who we are.”


OU at Oklahoma State

When: Saturday, 7 p.m.

Place: Boone Pickens Stadium | Stillwater

Rankings/records: CFP No. 9/AP No. 7 OU (10-7, 7-1 Big 12); CFP No. 21/AP No. 21 OSU (8-3, 5-3 Big 12)

Line: OU (-13.5)

TV: FOX

Radio: KRXO-FM 107.7

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