OU certainly didn’t ease Jackson Arnold into his new job

OU certainly didn’t ease Jackson Arnold into his new job

New OU offensive coordinator Seth Littrell had the freshman quarterback at full throttle in his starting debut. Arnold threw more passes than the Sooners had in any other game this season.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Dec 29, 2023, 6:26am CST

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Dec 29, 2023, 6:26am CST

SAN ANTONIO — Maybe Seth Littrell was like the rest of us.

Perhaps he wanted to see what OU has in Jackson Arnold, too.

That might help explain why the Sooners’ new offensive coordinator had the Sooners’ new quarterback attempt more passes in the Alamo Bowl than OU attempted in any other game this season. On the night Arnold made his first collegiate start, there was no easing into the job.

Littrell had Arnold at full throttle. All the way up.

It wasn’t necessarily a joyful noise.

Arizona 38, OU 24.

The Sooners turned the ball over a whopping six times, the most since a 1997 loss in Bedlam. Arnold threw three interceptions, two of which came in the first quarter, and he fumbled away the ball once. Jalil Farooq was to blame for the other two fumbles.

The offense was a total mess.

Except when it wasn’t.

Littrell, Arnold and Co. rolled up 562 total yards, 361 passing and 201 rushing. It marked the fifth time this season OU amassed more than 550 yards in a game, but none of the other opponents against whom the Sooners had such success were of Arizona’s caliber. The Wildcats finished in the top 15 of the College Football Playoff’s final ranking. 

The OU offense did some outstanding things against them Thursday night.

Ditto for Arnold, who threw for 361 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for another 38 yards.

“He had some phenomenal moments tonight and gave us a chance going into the fourth quarter,” Sooner coach Brent Venables said. 

But Arnold attempted 45 passes and was sacked another five times. Was it smart to have a freshman drop back 50 times in his first start? 

Even though the former five-star recruit is supremely talented and extremely promising, he was leading the offense for the first time. He had several weeks to prepare, but a lot was being asked of him in a short amount of time. 

It was asking even more of him to throw so many passes.

“I thought we had a good balance running and throwing,” Venables said of 45 passes and 34 rushes. “Had a lot of opportunity throwing the ball. Threw it well a lot, and so I think some of that was there. And then some of it’s RPO world.”

The run-pass option plays put the final decision in the quarterback’s hands, of course. 

Dillon Gabriel had many of the same variables as the Sooner starter this season, and he never attempted 40 passes in any game. OU’s previous high this year was 39 against Iowa State, and that was with a quarterback who has way more experience. 

For his part, Arnold said he didn’t feel any extra pressure throwing the ball so much in his first collegiate start. He had nothing but praise for the game plan, the in-game adjustments and the communication with Littrell, though I’m guessing few quarterbacks would ever criticize such things.

“I loved what Coach Littrell and Coach (Joe Jon) Finley did tonight,” Arnold said. “I’ve got the utmost confidence in them that they’re going to call a great game, and I believe they did.

“Those mistakes were on me. I’m going to take the full blame for that. I’ve just got to be better.”

I’m guessing he will be. 

And so will Littrell. 

Both of them are going to need some time to feel their way through things. This was the first game for this cast of characters. Figuring out fit and rhythm and continuity will take time for everyone.

And hey, when the Sooners were ripping off 24 unanswered points in the second and third quarters, it looked like they were already at an advanced stage. Frankly, I thought Littrell did something that really helped Arnold and the offense on the first possession of the second quarter.

On the first two plays of the drive, Arnold threw short, easy passes to Nic Anderson near the sideline. They were rhythm throws. Confidence throws. Balls that help the quarterback see success and build belief.

Because to that point, Arnold hadn’t been good at all. He was 3 of 8 for 30 yards and two interceptions.

But those short, easy passes seemed to unlock something in Arnold. He completed the first four passes of that drive, and that got him going. Got the Sooners going, too. They marched 75 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown, their first of the game.

The Sooners built on that momentum, scoring on three of its next five possessions. 

I’d have asked Littrell about that drive as well as all the pass attempts, but neither he nor any of the other OU coordinators were made available for postgame interviews.

So I can’t say exactly why Littrell had Arnold throw the ball so much. I can’t say if Littrell thought that was the best way to win or if he felt the deficits the Sooners faced dictated the calls or if he just wanted to see what Arnold could do.

Hey, no harm in that. Bowls have largely become exhibition games, so teams might as well use them to their advantage. Now, Littrell has a huge catalog of Arnold plays, and the Sooners can spend the entire offseason figuring out how to best use their new quarterback.

Arnold also has a bunch of video he can study, though he might not want to re-watch some of it.

“I’ve just got to be better,” he said. “I thought (the coaches) put me in great positions to win tonight, and lack of execution was the problem that we had.”

It definitely wasn’t a lack of opportunity.

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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