OU football: Kyler Murray makes a habit of avoiding big hits
NORMAN — Kyler Murray revealed a surprising slice of information Monday.
“I don't think I've taken a lot of big hits in my career playing football,” Murray said. “Maybe less than five. I think I do a good job of being safe out there.”
The health of the Oklahoma quarterback — especially given the recent season-ending injury to running back Rodney Anderson and the injury in the opener to backup quarterback Austin Kendall — is critical to the Sooners' success this season.
In 2016, offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley and Bob Stoops limited Baker Mayfield's exposure to big hits a bit after Mayfield suffered a couple of concussions the year before. Oklahoma's thin quarterback group — Kendall was the only other scholarship quarterback eligible for the Sooners that season — also played a role.
Don't anticipate that there will be a similar move coming to protect Murray.
Murray's speed, and the threat of it, is the first big factor that allows him to avoid big hits.
“People are just hoping they can get him on the ground,” Riley said. “Most people aren't trying to take big shots. If they do, it's probably about 99 percent chance you're gonna miss.”
That hesitation to line up Murray for big hits was on display last week against UCLA.
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On Murray's first run of the game, he took off on a designed draw and cut back to his left near the line of scrimmage before a stutter-step slowed down safety Adarius Pickett. Pickett did corral Murray but without a crushing hit.
Early in the second quarter, the Bruins had what looked to be their best chance at laying a big hit on Murray.
As Murray ducked toward the sideline on the first play of the first OU drive of the second half, safety Darnay Holmes closed in hard.
While Holmes launched toward the hit, Murray did a quick spin, limiting Holmes to a glancing blow.
Early in the third quarter, Murray had a winding, side-to-side scramble where he used his speed to avoid several would-be tacklers before Pickett looked to line Murray up once again. At the last moment, though, Murray ducked into a slide and yet again avoided a big hit.
“In high school, it's a little different. Guys are smaller. In college, you've got to protect yourself,” Murray said. “I'm not the biggest guy. So it's kind of a thing that's necessary at times for sure.”
Murray's baseball career helps, though he said sliding on the grass of a football field is a little different from sliding on the dirt in baseball.
Riley said Murray's ability to escape brought to mind a famous name from the other side of the Bedlam rivalry.
“Not that I'm saying he's Barry Sanders, I'm not. But it's kinda like that. Barry Sanders never took big hits because he was quicker and faster than everybody else on the field and it's in that same category of, his quickness is so good and he's so dangerous because he has top end that people want to make sure and kinda corral him.”