Horning: On the first day, Hurts was so good

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

OU's Jalen hurst passes the ball during the Sooners' game against Houston, Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019, at Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

On the first day, Jalen Hurts was the story.

Perhaps, for good or ill, he was always going to be. On the other hand, are you kidding?

Because it seemed amazing at the time, it was easy to focus one early number.

By the half, Hurts had run for 128 yards, a first-half feat managed by exactly one previous Sooner quarterback, Jamelle Holieway, since the beginning of time.

However, by the end of Oklahoma’s 49-31 Sunday night victory over Houston, that was the least of it.

Sure, it seems like a column from the first game of the season ought to be about more than the numbers and it will be eventually, yet there is no choice but to go to them first.

In his opening four quarters as a Sooner, Hurts completed 87 percent of his passes, a better figure then he’d ever compiled in a game in which he attempted more than seven.

He also threw those passes for 332 yards, or 45 more than he’d ever passed for previously and the time he tossed for 287 during the 2016 season came against lowly Western Kentucky.

Hurts also finished with 176 rushing yards, turning his 16 attempts into 11 yards per pop, which was also more than he’d ever gained, the previous high being 154 against Fresno State in 2017.

His three rushing touchdowns equaled his previous career high, achieved once, against Tennessee in 2016 and his three touchdown passes were one off his career high, achieved against Mississippi State in 2016.

All it means is his first day as a Sooner he was better than he’d ever been at Alabama, period, so there’s that.

More impressive, running and throwing and scoring — 508 yards of total offense and six touchdowns — was very nearly more than any Sooner, in any game, had ever accomplished.

Baker Mayfield rang up more than that three times and Landry Jones did it once. Of course, they probably played the whole game and Hurts sat out the final half of the fourth quarter.

“He’s out there playing football, man,” said CeeDee Lamb, one of 10 Sooners Hurts spread the ball around to, even through three quarters, which just might be more impressive than everything else he did in his debut.

It wasn’t perfect because the Sooners lost two fumbles and one them belonged to Hurts, which likely created a 10-point swing at the end of the first half, otherwise OU would have led 28-7 rather than 21-10.

Still, it’s the promise of what it might all mean that’s so blindingly glorious as OU turns toward South Dakota, UCLA, Texas Tech and Kansas, all of which now feel like nothing more than tune-ups on the way to the second Saturday in October at the Texas State Fair.

Never before, perhaps, has a team failed to beat the spread — 23 points — yet simultaneously left its fan base so excited about what could be in store.

Sooner coach Lincoln Riley had plenty not to like, from 94 yards in penalties, to the fumbles, to his defense failing to yield a turnover, to the way what began as an annihilation of the Cougars never quite materialized

Yet, in the interview room afterwards, it was abundantly clear how much he’d liked what he’d seen.

“Really proud of the way we played the majority of the football game,” Riley said.

It’s a small point, but even as OU gave up 31 points, which may be few enough to win every game this season but is still more than it should decide is all right, 408 yards allowed isn’t horrendous and 153 in the half is fairly encouraging and three out of four three-and-outs to begin the game is wildly encouraging.

Still, it all goes back to Hurts and just maybe a little bit to Riley, too.

The idea the Sooner skipper might coach three straight Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks feels more like a telling reminder of past success than a serious projection.

Yet, the way OU went right down the field to begin the game, the way Hurts tossed only three incompletions, the way he made decisions in the pocket, stepping up to earn the time to find the open man and suffering zero carries for loss even though many of his rushes were scrambles rather than designed … well, he sure looked like he might be the best quarterback in the nation by the time the season’s over and his position and head coach just happens to be Lincoln Riley.

It would have been enough that Hurts be only as good as the players he’s now surrounded by in his new offense.

Instead, after one game, it has become his teammates' challenge to play as well as he did.

Go ahead and cue the John Mellencamp because, you bet, on opening day, Hurt was … wait for it … so good.

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