How Hurts improved under coach Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma

Posted on August 4, 2022

In our continuing quest for Jalen Hurts information, we found a recent Trojans Wired podcast, which is broadcasting a deep dive into new USC coach Lincoln Riley.

Episode 3 was headlined: How Lincoln Riley developed QBs at Oklahoma.

We listened eagerly, hoping for insight into how quarterback guru Riley helped Hurts. Hurts transferred to Oklahoma for one season, 2019, after three years at Alabama. Riley was his head coach at OU in 2019.

Hurts is in his third season with the Eagles, his second season as the starter.

The podcast conversation was between host Matt Zemek and “Oklahoma Insider” Kegan Reneau.

  • “If Riley had another year with Jalen Hurts or with Spencer [Rattler], how do you think that would have affected their respective trajectories?” Zemek said.
  • “Looking back at 2019 in particular under Jalen Hurts, that offense looked pretty creaky for periods of time.
  • “And of course, Jalen Hurts came from Alabama where he did rescue Tua Tagovailoa in that year’s SEC championship game against Georgia [2018, a 35-28 comeback victory for the Tide].
  • “And [Hurts] played well in the 2016 national title game against Clemson. So some people would say, quite reasonably, that hey, Jalen Hurts had all the coaching and experience in the world entering that 2019 season at Oklahoma.
  • “So one could certainly say, critically, of Lincoln Riley, ‘Well, hey, you had this guy who was very experienced all ready. Why wasn’t that tandem [Hurts and Rattler] able to produce better for the Sooners?’ ”


Good and fair question, given Riley’s reputation.

  • “If you [hypothetically] had saw Jalen Hurts in 2020 at Oklahoma that offense would have been really, really fun,” Reneau said.
  • “That 2019 offense [with Hurts] … was very hit or miss for the first seven, eight, nine weeks.
  • “They were kinda making Jalen Hurts be a quarterback he wasn’t … I think that Lincoln Riley needed to have confirmation that Jalen wasn’t capable of the things that Kyler [Murray] and Baker [Mayfield] were. And he got that at Manhattan [at Kansas State] that day.”

“That day” was Oct. 26, 2019 at K-State. It was one of the shocking upsets of the college season. No. 5-ranked Oklahoma came to town riding a 7-0 record and was a 21.5-point favorite.

Kansas State, often a tough out at home, was 4-2.

The game was wild. OU took an early lead but K-State roared back and stunned the college football world, 48-41.

Hurts was statistically dominant. He completed 19-of-26 passes for 395 yards and one touchdown. He carried the ball 19 times for 96 yards and three touchdowns.

“And after that, he [Riley] took the playbook away from Jalen and inserted a new one. And they just took off,” Reneau said.

“Those four, five weeks with [current Eagle] Kennedy Brooks and Jalen Hurts … in terms of running the football at Oklahoma, as good at running the football as we’ve seen from an Oklahoma team *ever*. They were so efficient running the football, including the quarterback run game. If you go back, I think Hurts had the most rushing touchdowns and rushing yards by a quarterback … I believe, in Oklahoma history. And you’re talking about wishbone offenses that were around in the ’70s and ’80s. Jalen Hurts outdid that on the ground. It’s crazy. It’s insane.”


“What Lincoln Riley should be remembered for most was that he recognized who his offensive players were, what their best strengths were, and was able to make the most out of ’em,” Reneau said.

“In 2019 with Jalen Hurts, after the Kansas State loss, it was proven at that point that Oklahoma’s vertical passing game wasn’t what it needed to be, that he didn’t have the quarterback that necessarily had those kinds of qualities to do those things.

“He changed the offense. He turned into a triple option, running offense, essentially like something you see from the 1980s and the shotgun.”

OU made the 2019 College Football Playoff with that new approach. And Hurts thrived.

In Hurts’ only year at OU:

  • The Sooners were 12-2
  • Ranked seventh in the final AP poll
  • Scored 590 points, 42.1 per game, sixth in the country
  • Lost to eventual national champion LSU in the national semifinals, 63-28
  • Completed 237-of-340 passes (69.7 percent)
  • Threw for 3,851 yards
  • Threw for 32 touchdowns with eight interceptions
  • Rushed 233 times for 1,298 yards and 20 touchdowns
  • Finished a distant second to LSU’s Joe Burrow for the Heisman Trophy

Hurts is the OU leader for yards gained on the ground in a season by a quarterback and tied with Jack Mildren for most touchdowns by a quarterback in a season with 20.

Under Riley’s tutelage, Hurts’ stats improved dramatically. According to Reneau, Riley changed the offense to suit Hurts’ strengths, Oklahoma ran the ball more efficiently and the Sooners lit up the scoreboard.

Hurts’ stats under Riley at Oklahoma and at Alabama:

  • Pass completion percentage: 69.7 (Oklahoma) vs. 62.9 (Alabama)
  • Passing yards per attempt: 11.3 (Oklahoma) vs. 8.0 (Alabama)
  • Passing efficiency rating: 191.2 (Oklahoma) vs. 148.8 (Alabama)
  • Touchdown passes: 32 (in one season at Oklahoma) vs. 48 (in three seasons at Alabama)

Hurts benefitted from Riley’s coaching, even with Oklahoma’s switching its emphasis to the run game. According to Reneau, Hurts arrived for his one season at Oklahoma, not the best downfield passer.

Riley’s work with Hurts changed that and the switch in offensive philosophy gave Hurts more opportunity for success.

A successful running team means the defense is forced to adjust. That shift in defensive priorities can open up the field for the Eagles passing game. Works in college, works in the NFL.

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Chuck Bausman

Chuck Bausman is an Eagles writer for Chuck formerly was the Executive Sports Editor of the Philadelphia Daily News and the Executive Sports Editor of the Courier-Post in South Jersey. He learned how to cuss by watching Philly sports.

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