One of those events happened late in the second quarter. The Sooners were set up with a 2nd and Goal from the 5-yard line. Dillon Gabriel took off running to his left and was chased down for a one-yard gain. But when he hit the ground, his head appeared to whip back, slamming into the grass. Gabriel stayed in the game but threw an incomplete pass on 3rd Down, and the Sooners had to settle for a field goal.
That is when things changed. Coming out of halftime, Gabriel was nowhere in sight. Instead, it was reported he was out with a head injury, and it would be former five-star Jackson Arnold starting the second half.
Arnold spoke about what was going through his mind when he went into the game.
“We knew going into halftime that I would be going out,” Arnold said. “So, if we had another drive that first half, I’d be going out. At halftime, just talking to Coach (Jeff) Lebby, just telling what scheme-wise what we’re going to do, what we’re going to change, just had to go out and have success.”
Arnold’s numbers aren’t super impressive. He was 5 of 9 for 33 yards and had eight carries for 24 yards. He missed some throws, including a wide-open pass to Nic Anderson that would have been a touchdown to seal the game on the final drive. He also threw a screen pass to Tawee Walker on a third down that would have gone for a nice gain. But the flashes were there.
On a 3rd and 13 deep into BYU’s territory, he threw a strike to Jalil Farooq for 16 yards. On the Sooners’ final drive, Arnold showed off his elusiveness and tough running ability to pick up a first down and keep the chains moving.
Then came the play of the game. It was 3rd and 8, and the Sooners needed a first down to seal the game and kneel out the clock. Arnold made the throw to Farooq on a slant route for a first down, but it wasn’t just the throw that was so special about that play. Instead, it was what he did presnap.
“We thought they were going to max out, zero on us, so I just checked out of it,” Arnold said. “Just threw a little slant.”
Some people don’t want to give Lebby credit at all for that big play due to Arnold checking out of the play, but Arnold said that’s something they worked on all week.
“It was talked about all week,” Arnold said. “If we get certain looks, we need to check out of it, and that was one of them.”
That’s great preparation by the coaching staff but also a big-time play by a freshman. It’d be easy for players who aren’t expected to play just to go through the motions during practice, but that’s not what Arnold did. He stayed focused and then made the audible they practiced all week.
Offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby praised his freshman quarterback’s preparation in the win.
“That was the best part of his day was that everything that had happened, we’d talked non-stop about our zero checks all week, being able to get to certain things when we were in certain formations, and sure enough, the play to win the game, for the first time all day we get zero, and he’s gonna be hot, and he gets it,” Lebby said. “So just proud of him, the toughness and just the calmness to be able to get it done in the last minute was huge.”
But it wasn’t a moment that was too big for Jackson Arnold. On the road, in as tough an environment as there is in the new Big 12 landscape, Arnold rose to the occasion. Brent Venables credited Arnold’s ability to stay focused despite the team’s decision to redshirt the freshman quarterback. A redshirt that’s no longer in play.
“He’s put the work in, and the moment wasn’t too big for him,” Venables said. “You’re the backup quarterback, true freshman, so sometimes they’re young and immature. Jackson’s not.
“It’d be easy week, whatever this is, since we started fall camp — 13 or 14 of the season — and then not be prepared for the moment late this season. ‘I haven’t played yet. They’re gonna redshirt me.’ That’s not how he operates. He’s a winner. He’s got tremendous courage and a belief in himself and the guys around him and trust in the system.”
It wasn’t all pretty for Arnold, but that’s the stuff you want to see from a freshman. The future is bright for the future QB1 at Oklahoma.