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Oklahoma QB Jackson Arnold 'Pumped' to Get First Career Start in the Alamo Bowl

With Dillon Gabriel headed to Oregon, Jackson Arnold is officially stepping into the role as Oklahoma's starting quarterback in San Antonio on Dec. 28.

NORMAN — The Jackson Arnold era has officially started at Oklahoma.

Dillon Gabriel is headed to Oregon by way of the transfer portal, clearing the path for the Sooners’ talented signal caller to step into a leading role for bowl season.

Arnold isn’t a total stranger to the spotlight this year, stepping in for Gabriel for the second half of No. 12 OU’s 31-24 victory over BYU in Provo, but he’s ready to take the mantle as the leader of the offense ahead of the Alamo Bowl — especially with so much change on the horizon for the Sooners this offseason.

“I'm super excited,” Arnold said after OU’s practice on Tuesday. “It's obviously a great opportunity for me. You know, being a freshman and getting some real experience before experiencing the SEC next year, I'm super pumped up for this opportunity.”

The former 5-star recruit completed 18-of-24 passes for 202 yards and two touchdowns in regular season action this year, including the 5-of-9 performance at BYU.

He’ll have 15 practices ahead of the Dec. 28 meeting with No. 14 Arizona in the Alamo Bowl to not only get acclimated to life as QB1 at Oklahoma, but also his new co-offensive coordinators Seth Littrell and Joe Jon Finley.

Arnold said he’s built a great relationship with Finley since arriving in Norman, which was expected.

He also kicked off really well with Littrell, Arnold said, which made his decision to stay at Oklahoma easy after Jeff Lebby’s departure to Mississippi State.

“There's always stuff to reevaluate when change happens,” Arnold said. “Obviously with Coach Lebby, the scheme he's coaching, what he had to offer for me, but when he went to Mississippi State and especially with who we hired, I knew I was in the right spot.

“… I've been close with Coach Littrell since he got here, a constant communication since he's got here. He's helped me develop as a player, even while not in the OC role. It's been super great to get to know him and I'm super happy he's in the OC role now.”

Though Gabriel was one of the unquestioned leaders of the offense and the entire team the past two seasons, there’s plenty of confidence inside OU’s locker room about the level of play Arnold will deliver.

“He’s athletic. He can run the ball,” Oklahoma right guard McKade Mettauer said. “He’s got incredible arm strength and accuracy, we saw that in the BYU game. So I think this team will be very well prepared for next season with him at the helm.

“… He’s confident… He worked and waited for his opportunity… He’s gonna do the job. Nobody’s worried about anything from the quarterback position.”

FB - Jackson Arnold, Gavin Sawchuk, BYU Cougars

Oklahoma quarterback Jackson Arnold celebrates with running back Gavin Sawchuk in the second half of OU's 31-24 win over BYU last month. 

There has been plenty of change already for OU’s offense since Lebby left.

Center Andrew Raym and right tackle Tyler Guyton opted out of the Alamo Bowl to prepare for the 2024 NFL Draft, and left guard Cayden Green shockingly entered the transfer portal on Tuesday.

But as far as the offense goes, Arnold said OU fans won’t see the true Littrell show until 2024.

“It's hard for Coach Littrell because we're still going off of Lebby's plays and his terminology right now,” Arnold said, “so I won't see Coach Littrell kind of take over and implement his style and stuff until the spring but so far, I've seen him step into a more vocal role, especially in our meeting rooms.

“That was something I was very curious to see, him coming from an analyst to the position as OC now, I was curious to see that transition and I think he's stepped up and been a more vocal leader for us.”

Without Gabriel and Lebby, things certainly feel different for Oklahoma’s offense.

But Arnold is just excited to take on a larger role and start his tenure as OU’s starting quarterback against Arizona.

“The first two practices, yesterday and the day before were a little off, you know, having a new OC, not having Dillon here. It was a little off, the energy was off a little bit, but I think today was big for us as a group getting our mojo back and kind of getting things rolling around.

“… Practice, you have to practice, but as a backup it does kind of suck a little bit coming out knowing you're not the guy and you're taking less reps. And there's obviously a bigger excitement level coming out, knowing that you're the guy and you are going to go out and play.”