NORMAN, Okla. — Austin Kendall had tears running down his eyes on Saturday, but emotion had nothing to do with the Oklahoma quarterback’s condition.
“It was all because of the wind,” he said.
Those expecting to see the Oklahoma quarterback duel between Kyler Murray and Kendall were greeted by a howling north wind that turned into the best defense the Sooners have seen in ages.
Murray went 11 for 21 for 85 yards in a scrimmage that amounted to one half of competitive football. Kendall completed 11 of 18 attempts for 134 yards. He connected with tight end Grant Calcaterra for a 25-yard touchdown pass in overtime. It was the day’s lone touchdown.
For those used to seeing Baker Mayfield carve up defenses the previous three seasons, the Sooners didn’t look like the Sooners.
Then again, that was partly by the design of Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley. The depth chart didn’t exist on Saturday. The coaching staff split the teams as evenly as it could. Murray’s team had two likely starting offensive linemen. Kendall’s had three. Murray had Marquise Brown, the Sooners’ leading receiver in yards last season. Kendall got CeeDee Lamb and Calcaterra.
Riley wanted to see competition, from his quarterbacks and everywhere else.
“I don’t put much into this as far as those guys go,” Riley said. “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.”
Both quarterbacks showed they can produce with their legs. Murray rushed for 35 yards on 9 carries. His ability in the open field is no secret. The Sooners figured out ways to use him as a ball carrier last season. Kendall rushed 32 yards. Half of that total came on a zone-read keeper on his first snap.
Murray and Kendall both expressed disappointment that the conditions grounded the passing attack for both.
“It was tough with the wind,” Murray said. “For me, the day was about finishing drives. There were drives where we moved the ball and kinda stalled out. As a quarterback, you want to put points up as many times as you can. For me, that was the big deal.”
Freshman running back Kennedy Brooks rushed for 109 yards on 9 carries.
“That’s kind of what he does every day in practice — ‘There he goes again.’ That’s kinda him,” Riley said. “He’s got a unique running style. He kind of slides through there kind of easy, then all the sudden, he’s out. He’s pretty smooth. He’s a really natural runner.”
The Sooners were limited at the position. Junior Rodney Anderson didn’t play. The air was sucked out of the stadium when sophomore running back Trey Sermon suffered a leg injury midway through the first quarter.
It looked severe when linebacker Kenneth Murray, who didn’t play as a precaution, and a trainer helped Sermon back to the locker room, with Murray favoring his left leg.
”We’ll look at Trey Sermon. I don’t think it’s serious,” Riley said. “We’ll evaluate him further. Early indications look positive.”
Oklahoma puts on a show
You’d have to forgive Riley if his mind wasn’t locked on the game. The spring game ran in conjunction with an enormous recruiting weekend in which Oklahoma landed its fifth commitment since prospects began arriving on campus on Friday.
The game, which drew 52,102 fans on a day that was more reminiscent of a bitterly cold late November contest, was more of an event than a regular-season contest or scrimmage.
The day was Riley’s baby in every sense. He wanted to show off everything about Oklahoma football — past, present and future — on Saturday.
The day included the unveiling of former coach Bob Stoops’ statue on Gaylord Family Oklahoma Stadium’s south plaza. Former NFL players came back to honor Stoops but also mingled with current players and recruits.
Likely Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson coached the red team. Six-time Pro Bowl selection Trent Williams coached the white. The coin flip was conducted by six-time Pro Bowl selection Gerald McCoy.
“It’s been important for our fans and great for our players and great for our recruits,” Riley said about the work former players put in over the weekend. “I appreciate those guys very much and they’re a big part of what makes this place different and very special.”
Riley, who has only been head coach for 10 months, wants to build the spring game into an event that rivals regular-season games. He sounded the call for fans to pack the stadium. It might’ve happened if Mother Nature had been on his side on Saturday.
Oklahoma’s defense shows up
Maybe it was the wind, but the Sooners defense looked better. There were some big plays, including Lamb’s 30-yard catch early in the first quarter.
But big plays like that were infrequent at best. The Sooners recorded 4 sacks, and freshman Miguel Edwards registered the game’s only turnover with an interception of Kendall in the second quarter.
The infusion of defensive talent is the cornerstone of the 2018 recruiting class. Safety Brendan Radley-Hiles showed some of his potential with tackles, including 1 for a 12-yard loss. Defensive end Ronnie Perkins had 2 tackles. The game’s leading tackler was 2017 4-star linebacker Levi Draper, who redshirted last season because of a shoulder injury.
It might have been more, but the coaching staff held out freshman outside linebacker Jalen Redmond because of a nagging injury.
“All those young guys are gonna help this program, most of them sooner rather than later,” Riley said.
Teams use the spring game for a number of reasons. Riley seemed to get everything he wanted out of his.