NORMAN, Okla. — In retrospect, the bar Baker Mayfield set at Oklahoma is pretty high.
Based on Oklahoma’s Red/White Game on Saturday at Memorial Stadium, might it take a while for Kyler Murray and Austin Kendall to reach the bar Mayfield set in his illustrious career in Norman?
MORE: Oklahoma 2018 lookahead
“Not really,” said Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley, wrapping up his first spring replacing Bob Stoops. “I’ve seen high-level play throughout the spring. Spring game, there’s a lot of different things that sometimes work against you as a quarterback. If I remember right, Baker kind of stunk last year in the spring and that was after starting for two years. That’s part of it. I don’t put much into this as far as those guys go.
“There will be some things we can evaluate, especially how they handle the situations. Both those guys can play. They’ve had good springs. We’ll produce with those guys.”
It’s been widely presumed that the fleet-footed Murray — a former five-star recruit at Texas A&M, also a projected high-round pick in the MLB Draft — will replace Mayfield in 2018. But clearly, Kendall will have something to say about that.
“We’re going to have a ton of great film to go back through spring and evaluate what we’ve done well, what we need to do better,” Riley said. “I think they’re continuing to learn about our personnel. We’ll continue to narrow down the personnel for them, which makes it easier. So, yeah. It’s a process. We’re just kind of in the middle of it right now. I like what they’re doing. I like where they’re at, but we absolutely gotta get better.”
Saturday’s contest was a nice change at Oklahoma: a split of the quarterbacks, an equal split of the starting talent, a competitive game that — honorarily coached by NFL stars and former Sooners Adrian Peterson and Trent Williams — was decided in overtime by a 10-9 score (Peterson’s White team, quarterbacked by Murray, prevailed).
But it also wasn’t an ideal day for a thorough quarterback evaluation. A 25-mph wind gusted to 40 and disrupted the Sooners’ passing efforts.
“It was challenging,” Riley said. “… When you were into the wind, there was a part of the field that’s a little bit off limits because it’s hard to throw it that far into that strong of a wind. Downwind, actually, though, at times can be a little more challenging. You see the one ball down the middle that Kendall threw that it just grabbed it and whipped it.
“So it’s a little tougher to throw the ball, anything up in the air. Because once it gets it, it just takes it and you lose control. So yeah, it challenged us a little bit. But we’re used to practicing in that. It was a little extreme today. We did some decent things throwing and catching in it, and I thought the quarterbacks handled it fine.”
Officially, Murray was 11 of 21 passing for 85 yards, while Kendall went 11 of 18 for 134 yards and a one touchdown (a brilliant throw in overtime to tight end Grant Calcaterra) and one interception (a late throw in traffic, also to Calcaterra). Murray contributed 35 yards rushing on nine carries, and Kendall had 32 on five.
“Yeah, I was out there just crying, basically, tears running down my eyes because of the wind,” Kendall said. “Yeah, it’s hard throwing it. But we’re in Oklahoma so we’ve got to get used to it.”
Said Murray: “Kind of difficult. But we all talked about it. And it was something we got to work on. You never know when it's going to be that windy out. Can't control the weather. So as an offense, got to out there and just compete and grind through it.”
Murray and Kendall’s paths to the competition were similar, but opposite. Murray redshirted as a transfer in 2016 and led the scout team, while Kendall, a freshman, was Mayfield’s backup. Then last year, Murray backed up Mayfield while Kendall redshirted and led the scout team.
The 6-2, 220-pound Kendall was a four-star recruit out of Cuthbertson High School in Waxhaw, N.C. He played in two games as a true freshman and completed 16 of 22 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns and no picks.
The 5-10, 190-pound Murray was a consensus five-star quarterback out of Allen, Texas, and led his team to three consecutive state championships and a 43-0 career record. He played early (eight games total) and started late (three starts after Halloween) at Texas A&M before deciding to transfer to Oklahoma. Last season he went 18 of 21 for 121 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Murray’s situation could get complicated if he’s picked high in the baseball draft. He currently leads the Sooners' baseball team with five home runs, two triples and a .513 slugging percentage as the starting center fielder. If he's drafted high and gets a big offer, would he sign? Would he try to play both sports? Would he play the summer and come back in August? Would he stay in Norman and work on his quarterback skills?
“I'm not worried about that right now,” Murray said.
“We’ve had some discussions on that,” Riley said. “We’re open and honest with each other about that and I’m comfortable about where we’re at with it.”
Moving forward, Riley wants to see steady improvement out of both. That includes the intangible qualities, like leadership. How, then, does one improve as a leader? And can anything be learned from Mayfield’s impossibly high standards?
“I think just kind of stepping out of my role,” Kendall said. “To me, I’m kind of a quiet guy. But obviously, trying to be the starting quarterback at Oklahoma, you’ve got to have some leadership, too. And I’ve kind of stepped out of my role of being kind of the quiet guy. Coach Riley definitely has instilled that in me, that I need to be the up-tempo guy and get people going. I think today, or in the spring game, I’m out there before drives getting guys going, and I think that’s helped a lot, and I think I’ve improved on it.”
“Obviously (Mayfield) is one of the best to ever do it here and in college football,” Murray said. “It's great to watch him for however long I did. You just keep grinding and being around him and proving myself every day.”