Guerin Emig: If Dillon Gabriel hasn’t recovered, OU needs more out of Jackson Arnold than his 5-of-9-for-33-yards second half at BYU. Given a week of practice to get more comfortable, Arnold should deliver more.
Beating TCU makes Oklahoma 10-2, a four-win improvement from 2022. The last time OU improved by four wins year to year was 2010, a season which ended with a Fiesta Bowl victory over UConn.
If the Sooners win their bowl game (Alamo over Arizona perhaps?) to finish 11-2, it will mark the program’s biggest year-to-year improvement since 1999 to 2000. We all know the significance of 99-00.
That should do for motivation Friday, when players and fans might have trouble shaking the turkey from their systems and getting psyched for an 11 a.m. kickoff. OU still has a shot at the Big 12 Championship, but those long odds make the potential for a 10-win season more applicable.
Let’s see how the Sooners go about getting No. 10…
One player: Jackson Arnold if Dillon Gabriel doesn’t play, Danny Stutsman if Gabriel does
Former OU assistant Cale Gundy was on The Sports Animal Monday morning. He said he couldn’t recall any Sooner returning from a concussion in six days’ time while he was on staff, and thought Gabriel hitting the BYU turf as hard as he did didn’t look like a six-day injury.
This was a half hour before Brent Venables announced that Gabriel would be available against TCU provided he progressed through this week. And while Venables’ update was the headliner that day, it still felt like Gundy’s comments hovered.
The ex-assistant was right. Gabriel banging his head on the turf didn’t look like a six-day injury to anyone who watched the play. Also, OU’s medical and athletic training has always erred on the side of caution when it comes to head trauma.
If Gabriel hasn’t recovered, Venables needs more out of Arnold than his 5-of-9-for-33-yards second half at BYU. Offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby needs more.
Given a week of practice to get more comfortable, Arnold should deliver more. He doesn’t need to be Gabriel to beat the 5-6 Horned Frogs, but he can’t be a rattled first-time starter who throws a few interceptions and helps keep TCU in the game.
If Gabriel starts and OU’s offense exploits the Frogs’ 96th-ranked pass defense, TCU’s only hope is to win a shootout. That puts the game on a Sooner defense which played so sloppily at BYU it almost cost OU the outcome.
That puts the game on Stutsman most of all.
“Everything about Danny Stutsman, can’t brag on him enough,” Venables said this week, “what he has meant to the defense and the group, his leadership.”
One problem: Who is Josh Hoover?
Max Duggan lit up OU at TCU last year, but at least the Sooners knew who they were dealing with. If Chandler Morris was healthy enough to quarterback TCU Friday, the Sooners would have a good idea about him, too, Morris having started his career at OU in 2020.
Instead, the Sooners defend Hoover, a redshirt freshman making his sixth college start, a player they certainly have film on but one where it’s hard to know just what he’s capable of.
So far, Hoover has hinted that he’s capable of a lot.
He went 24-of-29 for 412 yards and 2 touchdowns in TCU’s 42-17 rout of Baylor last week. He went 37-of-58 for 439 yards and four touchdowns in TCU’s 44-11 rout of BYU Oct. 14. He hung tough against Texas Nov. 11, finishing 24-of-36 for 302 yards and two scores in a 29-26 loss.
Hoover also threw an interception against the Longhorns, two interceptions against BYU and two more during a 353-yard showing at Texas Tech Nov. 2, a game Tech won 35-28.
Hoover’s 11 touchdowns are just about offset by his eight picks. Such is life as a talented rookie quarterback. He puts his own offense on edge as often as he does the opposing defense.
The Frogs will live dangerously with Hoover on Friday, but then so will the Sooners.
One preposterous prediction: Arnold is the rookie QB we’re all talking about Friday night
Hoover plays well and winds up with 300 yards.
Arnold plays better in relief of Gabriel and winds up with 310, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions.
“The number one thing that stands out for me as I watch him and his growth is his consistency. He’s never too high, never too low,” Venables said of Arnold this week. “He’s always the same guy every day. Likes to compete, makes the most of his opportunity, values his opportunity, respects the game and what it takes to develop.
“He’s got great work ethic. And he understands as much as anybody you get what you earn.”
Arnold’s performance in his first college start earns him the adoration of an OU fan base perpetually itching for the next big thing at the Sooners’ biggest position. Some go so far as to claim that he, not Gabriel, should start that Alamo Bowl.
That doesn’t happen, but it does nothing to quell Sooner Nation’s expectation that OU’s Arnold-quarterbacked offense takes the SEC by storm next year.