Another Heisman Hopeful?

John Rohde
By John Rohde
Special to

NORMAN — If Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray keeps this up, the Sooners might end up doing something that's never been done before in the history of college football.

Since the Heisman Trophy's inception in 1935, only four programs have had back-to-back winners: Yale (1936-37), Army (1945-46), Ohio State (1974-75) and USC (2004-05). But none have had two straight winners at quarterback.

Given how well Murray has performed through the Sooners' first three games, OU could become the first school to have back-to-back Heisman winners who play the sport's most demanding position.

Murray added to his impressive early resume during the Sooners' 37-27 triumph at Iowa State on Saturday, completing 21 of 29 passes for a career-high 348 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing for a team-high 77 yards.

"He's leading our team. He's leading our offense right now and doing a pretty darn good job."
— Lincoln Riley

The outcome extended the nation's longest active road winning streak to 17 games. OU never trailed and has now won 24 straight times in Ames, where it hasn't lost since 1960.

Making his first career road start, a composed Murray excelled while playing both "beat the clock" and "milk the clock" to close each half.

Under his command, the Sooners finished the first half by going 74 yards in 10 plays, capping the drive with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Myles Tease with just five seconds left before intermission to give OU a 24-10 lead.

"You can't execute a two-minute drill much better than that," Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley said afterward.

Murray also directed the most important drive of the game, a 12-play, 47-yard march that burned 7:44 off the clock and resulted in a game-clinching 42-yard field goal from Austin Seibert with 2:51 left.

"Tremendous road win," Riley said of beating the pesky Cyclones (0-2 overall, 0-1 Big 12). "It was tough. We knew it would be. They're a tough out, man. No doubt about it."

Baker Mayfield, last year's Heisman winner and the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft, is now a backup quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. Meanwhile, Mayfield's backup last year at OU might be following in his footsteps as the most outstanding player in college football.

The No. 9 overall pick in last June's amateur draft by the Oakland A's, Murray was permitted to play college football and has taken advantage of the opportunity while getting the No. 5-ranked Sooners off to a 3-0 start heading into next Saturday's 6 p.m. home game against Army (2-1).

At this point in the season, Murray has almost identical statistics to Mayfield last year in terms of total yards and touchdowns.

Through the first three games last season, Mayfield had 1,033 total yards and was responsible for 10 touchdowns. Through three games this season, Murray has 1,032 total yards and also is responsible for 10 TDs.

Though Riley acknowledges Murray's achievement thus far, his tone implies something even more impressive could be on the way.

A sampling of Riley's post-game evaluation while discussing Murray, a 5-foot-10, 195-pound redshirt junior from Allen, Texas, via Texas A&M.

  • "He played well. He played within himself. Ran well, threw well, continues to play well for our team."
  • "He had a good, calm demeanor all day. Really saw what was happening defensively... saw how we wanted to attack it. Threw the ball extremely well. Made some big plays where it counted."
  • "He's growing, no doubt. He can get better. He's leading our team. He's leading our offense right now and doing a pretty darn good job."
  • "He's going to run around some. That's what he can do and he's dynamic when he does it."

Despite the ISU defense consistently rushing only three players and dropping eight in an effort to contain Murray's lethal improvisation skills, he still managed to average 5.1 yards per rush on 15 carries.

In Riley's eyes, that average could have been significantly higher... and very well could be in future contests.

"He was really, really close on the field to popping a couple of those," Riley said. "I still think some of those, instead of going 15 to 20 (yards), are getting ready to go 50 to 60."

Fearing their top draft choice is able to stay healthy playing football for OU, those in the Oakland A's front office no doubt hold their breath every time Murray improvises his way out of trouble. Murray wisely utilized the baseball slide several times to avoid contact with the heavy hitting Cyclones defense.

"A little adversity along the way never hurts anybody. We were expecting a dogfight, and that's what we got."
— Kyler Murray

"A team like Iowa State — scrappy, good players, underestimated, obviously, around the country — we knew coming into this game it could be a fourth-quarter game, and it was," Murray said. "A little adversity along the way never hurts anybody. Just good for the team, I feel like. Offensively, we handled it well and prevailed in the end. We were expecting a dogfight, and that's what we got."

In the first half alone, Murray completed 13 of 17 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns, and added 49 rushing yards with a 6.1 average.

The Sooners' first touchdown came on a 75-yard connection between Murray and junior wide receiver Marquise Brown, who set an OU record for receiving yards in a half with 189 (on seven receptions). The record Brown broke was his own when he had 178 receiving yards in the first half on seven catches at Oklahoma State in 2017, and shared by Juaquin Iglesias on 10 catches in the first half against Kansas in 2008.

Brown, who finished with 191 receiving yards, also broke the OU record for most receiving yards in a quarter (139 in the first), surpassing Jalen Saunders' 136 yards in a quarter against Texas Tech in 2013.

Asked how well he thought Murray managed the game, Brown said, "He managed it very good. At the end of the game, he did a very good job of keeping everybody calm."

OU has had six Heisman winners in Billy Vessels (1952), Steve Owens (1969), Billy Sims (1978), Jason White (2003), Sam Bradford (2008) and Mayfield (2017).

True, it's early, but might Murray become Heisman winner No. 7?