By Michael Kinney
For most, it seemed to be a foregone conclusion. When Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield left Oklahoma and become the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft, it was assumed backup quarterback Kyler Murray would be handed the keys to the offense.
However, that was not the way Murray approached the quarterback battle with redshirt sophomore, Austin Kendall. The Allen, Texas native came it like he does everything– with hard work.
So when OU coach Lincoln Riley told Murray Wednesday that he had earned the starting job and Kendall would be his backup when the season opens Sept. 1 against Florida Atlantic, Murray took it all in stride.
“Obviously, it’s a huge honor for me,” Murray said after practice Wednesday. “Something I have dreamed of, working hard forever since I got here. It’s a moment ever since I started playing I’ve been working for this. For me to be named the starting quarterback is obviously a huge honor. I know the standard of the position at this university, so it’s my job to uphold it.”
According to Murray, Riley called him and Kendall into his “big” office to deliver the news. While he wasn’t sure he would be named the starter, he had a feeling what the meeting was going to be about.
“We play next weekend, so it had to be soon,” Murray said. “He texted me and told me to come meet, I had a feeling that this is what it was about.”
According to Riley he just laid it out plainly that Murray was going to be the starting quarterback.
“These are elite athletes, they are competitors,” Riley said. “They don’t want you to beat around the bush. They want you to just tell them straight. That’s what I did. I told them both what the situation was and what the expectations were going forward, what we based the decision on.”
According to Riley, competition between the two stayed close throughout camp. But he wouldn’t give specifics on what Murray did better to win out.
“It was pretty simple honestly,” Riley said. “I don’t know that there is some elaborate breakdown that we have. As we looked at the whole body of work we just thought he was slightly ahead of Austin. So it was a very close one, stayed that way. One of the closest I’ve been involved with. They both did a tremendous job. At the end of the day, only one can do it. We’ll need them both to be successful this year. But Kyler is going to be the guy right now.”
What made this quarterback battle so intriguing were the things that had nothing to do with football. Murray was selected No. 9 overall in the MLB draft by the Oakland Athletics. He later signed a guaranteed contract worth estimated $4.7 million.
Despite that, 5-foot-10, 190-pound Murray insisted he would be coming back to Oklahoma for at least one more season to play football.
“I came in here every day ready to work,” Murray said. “Trying to get better. I think I’ve been playing the best football of my life these past couple of months. As of late, going from my freshman year at Texas A&M to being with coach Riley has obviously helped me a lot. Sitting behind Baker has helped me a lot. Now it’s time to go, put that to the show. ”
Murray is in his third season at Oklahoma after transferring from Texas A&M. He played sparingly last season behind Mayfield as he completed 18 of his 21 throws for 359 yards and three touchdowns. He added 142 yards on 14 carries.
The prevailing thought has been that Murray’s ability to use his legs and break open plays on the ground was an advantage that Kendall didn’t have. However, Riley said people are underestimating his ability to throw.
“Guy wouldn’t be able to play here, nor would we recruit him here if we didn’t think they would be a good enough thrower,” Riley said. “It starts with that. It starts with the ability to lead, it starts with the ability to throw the football. Everything else is all well and good, but our guys are going to have to be able to do that. He’s going to get his chance. People can say this or that, but he’ll get this chance to show what he can do.”
Murray said he got a text from Mayfield earlier in the day congratulating him.
According to Riley, Kendall took the news as expected.
“He handled it in a very mature way,” Riley said. “He certainly was disappointed, wants to play. For a guy like him, he can’t sit here and say what I did here over the last several months didn’t work. What he did over the last several months did work. He’s much, much-improved player. It’s going to help him a lot going forward.”
However, just because Kendall didn’t win the starting job now, doesn’t mean he won’t get his chances to get on the field this season. And, as Riley explained, no job is bench proof. Every day is a competition.
“That’s where the competition comes back, because they know we have two good players in there,” Riley said. “They know the expectations of within this offense, the expectations we have of the quarterback’s performance and out our offense’s performance. They realize that this is for the next 10 days and the first snap against FAU. Then after that, it’s about who’s playing the best. We keep the competition always going here. No matter the position, no matter the time of the year. That’s just what we believe in this program. Quarterback is no different.”
Center still undecided:
While the quarterback starting spot has been settled, Riley said no decision has been made between Jonathan Alverez and Creed Humphrey in the battle for the starting center.
Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider with EyeAmTruth.com