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April 7, 2007

Murray shines in OU spring finale

The Oklahoma offense no longer features Adrian Peterson, but it's clear after the annual Red & White Game that the Sooners will still feature a strong running game in 2007.

Demarco Murray rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown on just four carries while Chris Brown chipped in with 67 yards of his own on 11 carries to lead the Oklahoma offense (Red) over the Oklahoma defense (White) 53-30 in a modified scoring system devised by the Sooner coaching staff.

Murray once again became the biggest star in a major scrimmage when all eyes were trying to focus on a starting quarterback battle between Joey Halzle, Sam Bradford and Keith Nichol.

But with the quarterback race no closer to resolution after Saturday's Red & White Game, it is clear the 2007 Sooners could look very similar to the ground-oriented Sooners of 2007.

For offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, the Sooners appear to be a team that can rely on a strong offensive line and a solid running game to help along a young and unproven group of quarterbacks.

"I think our physical presence can be pretty good but I think if we can play that way and complement it with those skill receivers and have good mix," said Wilson. "I think that quarterback position can play well. I thought early it was disappointing that we weren't helping that position play well.

"We broke down a couple of times and that was disappointing. They look good when everybody does their job. And a couple of times today we just fell a little bit short."

The offensive staff came away slightly disappointed in the offense's ability to protect the ball on Saturday. The running backs turned the ball over early and receivers dropped too many passes during the first half of play.

With young quarterbacks, those mistakes will kill drives in football games next season.

But that doesn't put too much of a damper on the day of the running backs, and in particular, the play of Murray.

Last fall, Murray may have seemed like a disappointment to recruiting fans expecting big things from the highly recruited Las Vegas product. But after suffering a serious turf-toe injury and being sent to the scout team, Murray's made great strides this spring.

His story is not one of redemption, but rather a story of a player finally emerging.

"This (spring) I've been learning and watching a lot of film with Coach Gundy and all the other running backs so I think I'm getting it," said Murray. "I think I learned a lot. I'm still making little mental mistakes here and there but I think I've done well and I think I showed the coaches what I can do."

With plenty of accolades to be bestowed on Murray after his major scrimmage performances this spring, it will be time to take a closer look at the quarterback derby.

During the Red & White Game all three had their chances to make their case for the starting job, but in the end, it was still Joey Halzle and Sam Bradford in a dead heat.

Halzle had the biggest day of the two quarterbacks as he set himself up for big passes down the field. His completion percentage wasn't as stellar, but the big plays were certainly there.

Halzle completed 7-of-18 passes for 162 yards and one touchdown. He did throw the only interception of the day when Lewis Baker stepped in front of one of his passes.

But he also had the days biggest plays completing a 45-yard touchdown strike to Adron Tennell and another 40-plus yard completion to Quentin Chaney early in the scrimmage.

Bradford also had a nice day completing 9-of-14 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown.

But it was clear that Keith Nichol, working from a limited playbook, is still a ways away from basking in the spotlight. Nichol was quick to pull the ball down and take off on Saturday.

He rarely looked to his third option, choosing the tuck the ball and run on several occasions.

"I thought they really did a good job of managing the game," said Josh Heupel of his quarterback's play. "They took the plays when they were there and they presented themselves. They didn't force the ball down the field and put themselves in some tough situations. I think that's the critical thing of playing quarterback and where we're at as an offense. They have great skill around them and a big, physical offensive line."

But with such a potent running game developing on the offensive side of the ball, it's possible the best choice for the Sooners could be the player capable of making those big plays in the passing game.

That could give Halzle an edge that no one has discussed. Halzle might just have the best deep ball on the team. And when one of your best players is Malcolm Kelly, one of the most dynamic deep ball threats in college football, you can start to see a plan developing for this Sooner offense in 2007.

Defensively, the Sooners played well with the exception of some long runs by Sooner running backs.

Playing a very basic defense due to the prying eyes of the nation, Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables was pleased with the progress he's seen during the spring.

And one of his most important centerpieces remains Mike Reed, the junior college superstar now manning the middle linebacker position.

Reed had an outstanding Red & White game as he accounted for seven tackles (second most on the team), one tackle for a loss, one forced fumble and one pass broken up.

"I was pleased with him. He just started right. Now he's got a feel for it and he wasn't without a mistake, but when he shows the sureness he did at the start, it becomes a snowball effect," said Venables. "Performing very well today will really help him grow going into the last couple days and the offseason."

The defense was led by Nic Harris who had eight tackles on the day while Baker had the lone interception.

But following the spring, a new prince has emerged. Demarco Murray has elevated the expectations of the Sooner faithful with another dominating performance.

With a solid offseason and fall, he could be on the verge of staking a claim as the next great offensive force in Sooner football.

SCRIMMAGE STATS

SCORING PLAYS
Murray 18 yard run
Whitson 23 yard pass from Bradford
Tennell fumble recovery in end zone
Patrick 1 yard run.
Tennell 45 yard pass from Halzle

PASSING
Halzle -- 7-18-162, 1 TD, 1 INT
Bradford -- 9-14-110, 1 TD
Nichol -- 3-7-25

RUSHING
Murray -- 4-103, 1 TD (18)
Brown -- 11-67
Patrick -- 9-15
Nichol -- 6-15
Anderson -- 2-(-3)
Bradford -- 1-(-7)
Halzle -- 1-(-8)
McEachern -- 3-(-13)

RECEIVING
Chaney -- 2-65
Tennell -- 2-64, 1 TD
Whitson -- 2-45, 1 TD
Brow -- 2-35
Johnson -- 2-23
Zaslaw -- 2-19
Gresham -- 1-14
Caleb -- 1-11
Strong -- 1-8
Eldridge -- 1-5
Finley -- 1-5
Murray -- 1-4
Gutierrez -- 1-(-1)

KICKING
Hartley -- 4-for-4 PATs, 0-1 FG (52)
Moreland -- 1-for-1 PAT

PUNTING
Knall -- 6 punts, 33.7 avg.
Cohen -- 5 punts, 41.6 avg.

KICK RETURNS
Murray -- 3-60 (20.0 avg.)
Johnson -- 2-24 (12.0 avg.)
Iglesias -- 1-18 (18.0 avg.)

DEFENSE
Harris -- 8
Reed -- 7, 1 TFL (-2), 1 FF, 1 PBU
Lofton -- 7, 1 TFL (-3), 1 FR
L. Robinson -- 6, 2 PBU
Bowers -- 6, 1 sack (-3)
Smith -- 6
Nelson -- 6
Wolfe -- 6
Granger -- 5, 3 sacks (-12)
B. Jackson -- 5, 1 PBU
Holmes -- 4, 2 PBU
Davis -- 4
Franks -- 3
A. Taylor -- 3, 2 sacks (-6)
Baker -- 2, 1 INT (13 yards), 1 FF
Clayton -- 2, PBU
D. Pleasant -- 2, 1 TFL
English -- 2, 2 sacks (-12)
M. Walker -- 1, 2 PBU
Beal -- 1, 1 sack (-3)
J. Williams -- 1, 1 TFL (-3)
Bennett -- 1
Crow -- 1
Box -- 1
Macon -- 1
Taggart -- 1

PUNT RETURNS
None

ATTENDANCE
21,020


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