TOO CLOSE TO CALL
Spring game shows tight quarterback battle between Murray, Kendall
With the brisk wind at his back, Austin Kendall positioned himself behind Jonathan Alvarez.
His team, honorarily coached by Trent Williams, was down by seven points to Adrian Peterson’s team in the first overtime period of Oklahoma’s annual spring football game.
For a brief instant, the fate of the Oklahoma football team was in Kendall’s hands. This time, the stakes were minor with just a postgame meal on the line.
In the future, the situation could be more dire.
It only took the redshirt sophomore two plays to send a shot over the middle to tight end Grant Calcaterra.
Calcaterra broke through triple coverage and pulled the ball down in the end zone, putting the Red team within a point of forcing another overtime.
“I knew he could go up and get it,” Kendall said. “So I laid it out there for him.”
Kendall’s team came up short — losing 10-9 — as the two-point conversion failed, but in an afternoon where the final score didn’t matter, the announced crowd of 52,102 fans at Owen Field got a glimpse into the quarterback battle that’s been waged on practice fields and in meeting rooms all spring.
While dynamic quarterback Kyler Murray entered Saturday’s scrimmage as the presumed favorite to win the starting job, Kendall appeared to finish the game with the edge, completing 11 of 18 passes for 134 yards with one interception and one touchdown. He also rushed five times for 32 yards including a 15-yard scramble to open the game.
Murray, meanwhile, completed 11 of 21 attempts for 85 yards and picked up 35 yards on nine carries.
Because Murray practiced as Baker Mayfield’s backup last season while Kendall worked with the scout team, Murray had the slight edge entering the spring season. The season before, the roles were reversed as Murray sat for his mandatory transfer year while Kendall was forced to serve as Mayfield’s backup as a true freshman with a depleted quarterback room.
“I thought early in the spring Kyler was playing pretty well and playing a little better than AK, which is to be expected,” coach Lincoln Riley said afterward. “Austin has started to settle in this last half of spring. He’s played really well. He did a lot of nice things today. It’s neck-and-neck right now without a doubt.”
Both quarterbacks were hampered by north winds that gusted up to 50 miles per hour. The conditions kept Riley from fully opening his playbook and cost Kendall at least one completion.
“I was out there just crying, basically, tears running down my eyes because of the wind,” Kendall said. “But we’re in Oklahoma so we’ve got to get used to it.”
Early in the game, Kendall got a deep pass off to sophomore CeeDee Lamb for a gain of 31 yards, but later he tried to hit redshirt freshman Charleston Rambo and the ball sailed out of bounds, pushed off course by the wind.
While throwing the ball proved challenging for each quarterback, it didn’t affect their ability to show off their footwork and speed.
While Murray earned a reputation as the uberathletic contender with speed and agility as his greatest assets, Kendall showed that he’s pretty good on his feet, too.
After opening the game with a 15-yard keeper, Kendall picked up 15 yards again later in the game, rolling out of the pocket and sprinting up the field before sliding down to end the run.
“People think I’m more of a pocket passer,” Kendall said. “I think I am, too, but when a play breaks down or if I need to pull the ball, I can pull it.
“Hopefully I showcased that. I think I have a little bit of wheels on me as well.”
With the spring season just one practice away from completion and the position battle far from over, the two quarterbacks have plenty of homework.
“Summer will be big,” Riley said. “That’s a time when you can separate yourself. You only get eight hours a week with them mandatory during the summer.
“If they’re only spending eight hours a week on
it themselves, then they won’t be the starting quarterback here.”
Oklahoma quarterback Austin Kendall, right, keeps the ball while trying to get by Brendan Radley-Hiles during Saturday’s spring football game in Norman.
A.D. Miller, left, catches a pass while Robert Charlton defends during Saturday’s spring football game at Gaylord Family — Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.