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Oklahoma's Eric Gray Helping Quarterbacks Prepare For First OU-Texas Matchup

The Sooners' inexperienced quarterbacks will rely on roster veterans in big rivalry week against Texas.

No matter who suits up at quarterback for the Sooners against Texas on Saturday, it will be a first.

The Sooners are hoping starter Dillon Gabriel is healthy enough to go, but even he’s a newbie in one of college football’s biggest rivalries. Behind Gabriel, David Beville filled in against TCU and Oklahoma struggled to move the ball. He filled in for Pittsburgh against No. 10 Michigan State in the Peach Bowl, but hasn’t played in a rivalry game like OU-Texas.

Gabriel was injured in Oklahoma’s loss to TCU and is being evaluated for a concussion. The Sooners' other options, General Booty and Nick Evers, are very inexperienced, too. Oklahoma has no time to feel sorry, though, as the Sooners have the same goal this weekend regardless.

“It’s our job as coaches to put guys in position for success regardless of who’s out there,” offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby said. “We’ve talked a bunch about that as a unit and as a staff. Regardless of who’s playing, man, our expectation is to play well and play cleaner and play better.”

One person who’s sure to help the Sooners on Saturday is senior running back Eric Gray. Gray debuted at the Red River Rivalry for the first time in his career last season, and he fully understands the difference between a regular game and the Red River Rivalry.

“When I first got out there, like I said, it’s a different environment,” Gray told reporters Monday night. “Probably my first run, I was like, ‘OK, let me settle down a little bit.’ You get a feel for it. It’s just football all over again.”

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The Tennessee transfer accounted for six carries and 37 yards in Dallas a season ago. Gray’s role seemed to disappear as the season went on, registering single-digit carries in the last nine games. He will likely have a much bigger role this Saturday, but he’s preparing for the same environment.

After being immersed in the atmosphere and playing in the game, Gray has unique experience to share with the first-year quarterbacks. He knows what it takes to play in a game like this.

“It’s next-man-up mentality,” Gray said. “It’s like that at every position. It’s next-man-up mentality. The next guy, we got to get ready for whoever’s back there. We got to protect them as a running back. We got to protect them. We go to make sure we do our job because we know whoever it is, is going to prepare this week because they know it’s a big week to do their job.”

Whoever is the signal caller on Saturday, the most important thing seems to be keeping it simple. Oklahoma looks to be focused on establishing the ground game early to make sure the offense gets in sync. The quarterback’s job will be to find open receivers and not do too much.

“You know, it’s different,” Gray said. “Most people don’t play in a game where it’s half your fans, half their fans, so it’s different. Usually when you play a rivalry, it’s either your fans or their fans. So just tell him to keep the poise.

"You don’t have to be Superman. You don’t have to go out there and play out of your mind. You’ve just got to manage the game. That’s for every position. You just got to go out there and do your job. When all 11 guys are doing their job, that’s what you want.”