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Kyler Murray-Led Oklahoma Emerging as Biggest Threat to Alabama, Clemson

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistSeptember 5, 2018

NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 01: Quarterback Kyler Murray #1 of the Oklahoma Sooners walks off the field after the game against the Florida Atlantic Owls at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium on September 1, 2018 in Norman, Oklahoma. The Sooners defeated the Owls 63-14. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
Brett Deering/Getty Images

Kyler Murray's long-term future involves a baseball field, but in the short term, he's a potential thorn in the sides of both Alabama and Clemson for the 2018 national title.

During his debut as Oklahoma's full-time starter, the dual-threat, multisport star displayed one of the qualities most necessary in a championship-caliber quarterback:

He didn't do too much.

In the process, he shredded Florida Atlantic.

In less than 30 minutes of work, Murray completed nine of 11 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns with zero interceptions. He also picked up 23 yards on the ground while leading Oklahoma to a 42-0 advantage and ultimately a 63-14 win.

Box-score stats, however, are just one part of the story.

His 15-yard scramble in the first quarter covered a lot more than 15 yardsmaybe 100?embarrassed five FAU defenders and picked up a first down. The next snap, Rodney Anderson dashed 30 yards for Oklahoma's first points of the blowout.

That kind of mobility historically has given Alabama problems, and quarterbacks better be prepared to scramble against Clemson's NFL-bound defensive line.

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Murray's 65-yard touchdown pass to Lee Morris only covered 11 yards, and the wideout took advantage of shoddy tackling for the rest. The throw, though, had terrific velocity to beat tight coverage and hit Morris directly in the chest.

Passing windows are typically small opposite the Tide and Tigers. Placement and velocity control are two critical points of overcoming good coverage, and a third is timing.

Murray played a near-perfect game against Florida Atlantic.
Murray played a near-perfect game against Florida Atlantic.Brett Deering/Getty Images

Late in the first quarter, Murray targeted Marquise Brown with a ball that traveled 33 yards in the air. The pass left Murray's hand before FAU corner James Pierre could see the release, making him locate Brownnot the ball. "Hollywood" went up and brought it down. The next snap, Trey Sermon scampered 17 yards for a touchdown.

The list goes on.

On a 3rd-and-1, rather than simply picking up a first down in space, Murray flipped an option pitch to Anderson, who scampered 65 yards to the house. Later, Murray noticed a safety jump a crossing route and uncorked a 65-yard bomb to Brown, hitting the speedster in stride.

When there's a big play available, championship-caliber offenses cannot afford to waste that chance. Murray didn't.

Though he's dynamic in his own right, Murray consistently put Oklahoma's playmakers in position to succeed. He extended drives with his legs and flung accurate passes that afforded his receivers a chance to gain yards after the catch.

Trying to do too much is where quarterbacks get in trouble. Murray avoided that throughout his 2018 debut, and it's easy to see that continuing given the surrounding skill-position weapons.

Cliff Brunt @CliffBruntAP

FAU coach Lane Kiffin: "I’d be shocked if there’s a better team in the country than what I saw today. Defense much improved, and obviously, that was their area of weakness last year." #Sooners #Oklahoma

The latter point is OU's biggest wild card.

Sometime this season, the defense will struggle. The unit's physicality was occasionally lacking against FAU, and that's a potential issue. Several high-powered scoring attacks are on the slatemost notably West Virginiaand both Alabama and Clemson have similar potential if the Sooners aren't aggressive up front.

Oklahoma is capable of matching it, though.

Between his reps last season and Week 1's showing, he's excelled as a distributor in Lincoln Riley's high-efficiency system. The Sooners can thrive with Murray as an occasional playmaker; they're not solely dependent on his explosiveness.

Riley and Co. also have a considerable advantage on Ohio State and Wisconsin, which must survive a brutal Big Ten. Washington already has one loss, and no other Pac-12 program is yet considered a top-tier contender. Auburn and Georgia must deal with each other, as well as the rest of the SEC.

Among the group of elite challengers, the Sooners are best positioned to make a run at the powerhouses that reign over college football.

That's largely a credit to the quarterback, but the talent around Murray makes him look terrific too.

        

All recruiting information via 247Sports. Stats from NCAA.com, cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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