Dillon Gabriel isn’t Kyler Murray or Jalen Hurts when it comes to running the football, but the OU quarterback’s skills are a weapon the Sooners can use.
NORMAN — Dillon Gabriel felt the pocket collapsing around him, saw a lane in front of him and took off.
The OU quarterback was acting largely on instincts. When a bunch of really big humans are trying to drive you into the Owen Field turf, having the wherewithal to opt for self-preservation is never a bad thing.
But as Gabriel headed up field, instinct gave way to skill. A defender ran toward him, closing fast. Rather than slide or accept his defeat, Gabriel bounced outside. He veered to his left, and darned if he didn’t clear the defender and find open space again.
Approaching the line-to-gain, Gabriel lowered his head.
That play last Saturday wasn’t one for the highlight reel. It was early in the game. It only resulted in six yards. Still, you can add it to a growing body of evidence: the Sooners have a quarterback who can run a little bit.
With a running back group that’s been a bit banged up and an offensive line that’s going through some growing pains, having a capable runner in Gabriel could come in handy.
“He’s got good savviness to him,” Sooners coach Brent Venables said. “He knows when things are closing on him fast, so he’s not subjected to any collisions that are too violent in any way. He’s got a good feel and a good pocket presence.
“He’s really smart about it. That’s the thing I like about it.”
Gabriel isn’t going to be confused with Kyler Murray or Jalen Hurts, Baker Mayfield or Caleb Williams. Those first two, especially, can really run. Murray was among the speediest quarterbacks to ever play college football. Hurts was among the most powerful. Running the football was a huge part of their games at OU and still is in the NFL.
Gabriel is never going to be in their category.
“Definitely not my strong suit in terms of being 6-5 and meaty,” Gabriel said of running, “but I think just with the day and age of college football, you gotta be able to extend plays, and I know I can do that.”
He had seven carries for 29 yards against SMU. Gabriel was sacked once for a loss of nine yards, but if you leave those negative yards out of the calculations, he averaged 4.1 yards a carry.
That’s solid. Not as good as Tawee Walker or Marcus Major but better than Jackson Arnold or Jovantae Barnes.
Now, I’m not suggesting Gabriel should start carrying the ball 15 or 20 times a game. But if he scrambles or the Sooners call a designed quarterback run, there’s a good chance Gabriel is going to get something positive.
“He recognizes these windows of when he can do that, and that’s frustrating for a defense,” Venables said. “It’s really frustrating when you play coverage and then there’s lanes where the quarterback can climb. It helps extend drives.”
It’s not just Gabriel’s recognition that makes him a better-than-expected runner. It’s his ability, too. He’s got skills. Vision. Strength.
Not every quarterback known for his running ability does.
Trevor Knight, for example, rushed for lots of yards as a Sooner quarterback. When OU went to Iowa State in 2014, he ran for 146 yards. He was fast, way faster than Gabriel, but Knight’s running abilities weren’t nearly as good.
After that Iowa State game, my buddy Berry Tramel mused that Sam Bradford, not really known for his running ability, would’ve rushed for 100 yards against the Cyclones.
“Cale Gundy in his prime would have rushed for 200,” Berry wrote. “Charles Thompson would have rushed for 400.”
Knight was more of a mobile quarterback than a running quarterback.
I’m not ready to term Gabriel a running quarterback just yet, but when he takes off, Sooner stomachs shouldn’t drop. Maybe they didn’t last year, though OU’s lack of depth at quarterback likely caused panic when Gabriel exposed himself to hard-charging linebackers. The depth is better this season as is Gabriel’s ability to run.
He says it was one of his focuses in the offseason.
“Just getting my body in shape and being where I want to be,” he said. “Being confident in it.”
Gabriel is, and after watching him run, the Sooners should be, too.