Jalen Hurts's Oklahoma Debut Was Somehow Better Than Expected

While Jalen Hurts dazzled in his historic debut for Oklahoma, the Sooners' improved defense spoiled Dana Holgorsen's first outing with the Cougars. 
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Our three observations from Oklahoma’s 49–31 win over Houston on Sunday night.

Holy Hurts: Last we saw of Jalen Hurts he saved Alabama’s you-know-what in a comeback victory against Georgia in the SEC championship game. He’s gotten even better. This was the Hurts Show on Sunday night. All Hurts, all the time and all good (except for one lost fumble, his only real miscue). Hurts’s numbers were insane: 20-for-23, 332 yards passing, three touchdown passes, 16 carries for 176 yards rushing and another three touchdowns on the ground. Granted, he did do it all against a Houston defense that ranked only better last year than two other FBS programs, but these numbers were historic. His 493 yards of total offense through three quarters topped Kyler Murray's best game last season of 478 yards. He had 128 yards rushing in the first half, matching a school record. He set the OU record for total offense by a player in a Sooners’ debut (508), eclipsing the 396-yard outing by Baker Mayfield. This was a buffet of goodies from Hurts. He scrambled for chunks of yards, executed zone reads, tossed perfect deep balls and needled passes across the middle. His father, Averion Hurts, told ESPN during the game, “He’s waited a long time. He’s back where he was and where, you could say, he belongs. Playing Houston and being from Houston… it’s a little extra.” His son even had a tackle on Sunday, bringing down a defender who snatched a fumble. Most expected Hurts to shine in a Lincoln Riley offense that helped produce the last two Heisman Trophy winners, Mayfield and Murray. But did anyone really expect this? 

The Grinch stole Holgorsen’s debut: Oklahoma’s defense is not terrible, a cause for celebration. Alex Grinch’s debut as the man responsible for overhauling the sluggish unit was a success, maybe not a smashing success but a success. It was hard for this crew to get worse, but it has clearly gotten better. The Cougars are no slouches. They have a veteran and athletic quarterback in a system captained by one of the best offensive minds in football, Dana Holgorsen. UH did barely crack the 400-yard mark, but much of it came during late-game, mop-up duty. The Cougars missed on eight third-down attempts, and Grinch’s defense forced three three-and-outs in UH’s first four drives, a revelation for the Sooners. OU had forced two three-and-outs in the last three games of 2018 combined. Grinch, the nephew of longtime Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, was brought in from Ohio State to shore up a unit that for the last two seasons has cost this program in the CFP semifinals. “What I’ve seen from the Oklahoma defense tonight, they are positioned to make a serious run at the national championship this year,” ESPN color analyst Todd Blackledge said during the broadcast. “Jalen might not win the Heisman, but they can win the championship with this team much easier.”

Look out, Cougars: Holgorsen’s first season at Houston started off as you’d expect. After all, the Cougars were 24-point underdogs, but this could be a long opening month. After facing Prairie View A&M next week in the home opener, UH gets Holgorsen’s mentor, Mike Leach and Washington State, before traveling to Tulane and North Texas and hosting Cincinnati. But there were positives on Sunday for the Cougars. QB D’Eriq King finished with 270 total yards and three touchdowns, and Houston had a chance late in the game to make it tight. The Cougars crept to within 11 points before failing on a fourth-down play with about five minutes left.