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Oklahoma Football: Chemistry Clicking for Jalen Hurts and the Sooners

Oklahoma Football: Chemistry Clicking for Jalen Hurts and the Sooners

Oklahoma Football: Chemistry Clicking for Jalen Hurts and the Sooners

PASADENA, Calif. — Charleston Rambo knew he was getting six the moment he stepped up to the line.

"I see the cornerback kinda flat-flooted, so I'm like, 'OK, he better get ready to bail,'" Rambo said following a 48-14 romp at UCLA. "I ate up his cushion, [put] him on his toes. I see the safety come down, and I was like, 'Yeah, that's a touchdown.' As soon as I put my foot in the ground, go post [pattern], see the ball, yeah — it's done for."

A prophetic read, indeed.

A beautiful, rainbow-arching pass met Rambo's perfectly run route in stride, right at the goal line. Thirty-nine yards and another Oklahoma touchdown, Rambo's second in a monster performance from him, and the fourth of the night quarterback Jalen Hurts added to his quickly growing Heisman Trophy resume.

Hurts went into the Rose Bowl Week 3 and produced 289 passing yards with three touchdowns: the 39-yarder to Rambo, a 48-yarder that also went to Rambo, and a 39-yard connection with CeeDee Lamb. Hurts also rushed for a touchdown on a 150-yard night — 99 of which came on what officially was an 89-yard drive to open the game.

Through three games as an Oklahoma Sooner, the Alabama transfer Hurts has produced 1,253 yards of total offense, good for second in the nation. Heisman buzz is unavoidable, considering each of Hurts' last two predecessors — Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray — won the award. Hurts' transition running Lincoln Riley's offense has been seamless. But that doesn't come for a quarterback new to a program without talented teammates, or without establishing chemistry with them.

For Hurts, the process of meshing with his new teammates began on Day 1.

"The day he came in, he had to stay with me and CeeDee for a few nights. We started gaining chemistry right there," Rambo said. "Two or three days later, we started running routes together."

"My first impression of him [was] he’s got a strong arm," Rambo continued. "When we run fade, post, deep balls, he can launch it."

That gorgeous dime thrown on Rambo's 39-yard catch speaks to Hurts' big arm. Rambo's confidence in Hurts' foresight to make the throw speaks to the bond the quarterback has forged in short order. And there's a cohesion to the Oklahoma offense across all phases, with each unit boasting multiple playmakers who can produce big plays on any snap.

If moving so quickly and putting points on the board at a 55.7-per game clip looks like fun, it's because it is. Just ask running back Kennedy Brooks, who flashed a grin when asked about the joy of contributing to the system.

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"This is my second year, and just seeing how many weapons we have on the field, it's crazy how we use them," he said. "Anybody can score at any time. It's pretty cool."

For that reason, Hurts' initial success might provoke suggestions that he's a product of the system. After all, he's the third consecutive quarterback to transfer into Oklahoma and flourish in Riley's wide-open spread, following Mayfield (Texas Tech) and Murray (Texas A&M).

To dismiss Hurts' performance as simple plug-and-play misses the mark, however. Hurts can and does make plays that put his own signature on the offense, and that impress teammates.

"We've had multiple quarterbacks come through here and do it, but to see him do it in a different way is just amazing," said Brooks.

With either his arm or his feet, Hurts wows even those who have come to know the exceptional as the standard. With his confidence, the quarterback's won the trust of those same peers. That was a quality, along with the arm strength, that Rambo said he noticed immediately.

"He’s humble and he’s confident in his play," Rambo said. "He motivates me to do more. He sets the bar, and I just go reach it."

Hurts hasn't just set the bar for those, either. His play early into the 2019 season marks progress for Hurts himself. The story became gridiron lore as it unfolded: After leading Alabama to national championship games in 2016 and '17, he lost his job to Tua Tagovailoa at halftime of the 2018 College Football Playoff Championship. Tagovailoa powered a comeback that culminated with a game-winning, touchdown throw in overtime.

There was never a reason for Hurts to lose confidence, though, and that was abundantly clear in one of his last appearances with the Crimson Tide. The role reversal of Hurts coming in for an injured Tagovailoa to steer Alabama to the 2018 SEC championship marked another instant classic action beat of this truly unique story.

His confidence not wavering, Hurts came to Oklahoma and has seemingly shored up the facet of his game most in question during his time in Tuscaloosa. That long touchdown pass to Rambo? Exactly the kind of downfield passing play that was the lone question mark of his dual-threat game.

There's still more Riley wants to see from the quarterback as the Sooners pursue that elusive national championship, to which they've come so close in the last two seasons.

"He took some steps from the last couple of weeks," Riley said. "It's a laundry list of things to get better at, and that is how I will approach it with him."

If the first three things are any indication, it won't take Hurts long to make those strides.

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.