BYU defensive coordinator Jay Hill says Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel deserves to be mentioned as a Heisman Trophy contender with the likes of Oregon’s Bo Nix, Washington’s Michael Penix Jr. and LSU’s Jayden Daniels.
After Gabriel faces the Cougars’ porous and struggling defense on Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium (10 a.m., ESPN), his Heisman chances could soar even higher. All the Mililani, Hawaii, native did last week against a West Virginia defense that is much better than BYU’s was account for eight touchdowns in a 59-20 romp in Norman.
“Man, I have been really impressed with him. ... We are going to have to play our best (to contain him). He’s not a guy who is going to lose his composure. He is very poised. This guy, if you make a mistake, he will punish you for it.” — BYU coach Kalani Sitake on Dillon Gabriel
The redshirt senior threw for five touchdowns and rushed for three, becoming the first player in OU history and first FBS player this season to accomplish the feat.
“They have a phenomenal quarterback who is playing at a great level,” Hill said. “… I don’t know if it is fair to say (Gabriel) is the best. We have faced a lot of good quarterbacks this year. And he’s right up there with all of them.”
Gabriel’s stats in 2023 are certainly the best. He’s accounted for 36 touchdowns — eight more than the Big 12 player with the next most, Kansas State’s Will Howard. Gabriel is fourth in the country in total offense (340.6 yards per game), seventh in passing offense (306.9 ypg) and passing efficiency rating (172.1).
It’s a big challenge for a BYU defense that has struggled to contain even mediocre quarterbacks and first-time starters.
“Man, I have been really impressed with him,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake. “… We are going to have to play our best (to contain him). He’s not a guy who is going to lose his composure. He is very poised. … This guy, if you make a mistake, he will punish you for it.”
BYU fans are familiar with Gabriel, and he is with them, their culture and their team, having grown up in Hawaii and having watched many Hawaii-BYU clashes over the years. As was detailed greatly before Gabriel quarterbacked UCF in the 49-23 Roca Baton Bowl loss to Zach Wilson and the Cougars, Gabriel’s father twice beat BYU as Hawaii’s quarterback.
Garrett Gabriel outplayed Ty Detmer in 1989 and again in 1990 in games in Honolulu. The 1990 win came on the day Detmer won the Heisman.
“I think (the Cougars) are really good,” Dillon Gabriel told reporters in Norman earlier this week. “Obviously I have played BYU before, so I just know what they are about. They are very physical and have played well together. They had a tough stretch, but shoot, that place is special and different, kinda unique, in college football.”
Asked what makes BYU unique, the Sooners’ two-year starting QB said “just what it is all about” and that every place in college football has some “unique things” about them.
“At the end of the day it is going to be a great game and a great experience, so I know we are excited about it,” Gabriel said. “I know it will be a great atmosphere, so everything that comes with it, we are ready.”
At the Big 12 football media days in Arlington, Texas, last July, in a more relaxed setting than after a practice in Norman with dozens of television cameras and cellphones in his face, Gabriel went into more detail about his relationship with BYU quarterback Kedon Slovis and coach Sitake.
“He’s a guy I text back and forth with and check in with,” he said of Slovis, having met the former USC and Pitt QB at the Manning Passing Academy a few years ago. “He’s a great dude. We have been able to become good friends.”
As of midday Wednesday, BYU hadn’t named a starting QB for its penultimate game of the 2023 season. Sitake said Slovis “is our guy, usually,” if he is healthy, but the eight-game starter missed the last two games, both blowout losses, due to elbow and shoulder soreness.
“I am excited to play in Provo,” Gabriel said in July. “It will be super cool and the new teams in the Big 12 are going to add another dimension to more atmospheres and more fun atmospheres.”
It could be a long day for the Cougars (2-5, 5-5), who are third in the Big 12 in interceptions (12 picks), but seventh in passing defense (233.5 ypg.) and 10th in opponent completion percentage (.607).
Gabriel is “definitely one of the best quarterbacks we have faced so far,” said BYU defensive end Isaiah Bagnah, a Boise State transfer. “Every quarterback we have played has their own special skillset, or what they are the best at. That being said, this quarterback is somebody we gotta pay attention to and work hard against, for sure. … He has got a lot of experience under his belt.”
What jumps off the page after watching Gabriel’s film?
Cougars on the air
No. 14 Oklahoma (5-2, 8-2)
at BYU (2-5, 5-5)
Saturday, 10 a.m. MST
LaVell Edwards Stadium
Radio: 102.7 FM/1160 AM
“Well, he is a really accurate thrower. He knows when to pull the ball, when to throw the ball, when to hand off the ball. He’s good with his reads. He is an elusive runner. When he runs, he’s athletic,” Hill said. “There is a reason why he is mentioned in the Heisman race, why he’s had such a productive year. He’s a big-time player.”
Sitake said these are the types of NFL-bound athletes and quarterbacks the Cougars knew they would face when they accepted the Big 12 invitation two years ago.
“We are going against a different beast here,” he said. “These are teams that have been at this Power Five level way longer than we have. I am not making excuses, I am just telling you, they are really good players.”