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2023 Positional Preview – Quarterbacks

In the first installment of the 2023 Positional Preview, we cover a Quarterback room led by 5th year senior Dillion Gabriel and true freshman five-star Jackson Arnold.
Dillon Gabriel and the QBs at Meet the Sooners Day – Photo by Nathan J. Fish, The Oklahoman

The Room

Projected Depth Chart

  1. Dillon Gabriel – RS SR
    • 2022 – 230/367 (62.7%); 3,168 yards; 25 TD, 6 INT, 154.4 QB Efficiency;
      • 89 rushes, 315 yards, 6 TD
    • Career – 784/1280 (61.3%); 11,205 yards; 95 TD, 20 INT, 156.2 QB Efficiency
      • 256 rushes, 687 yards, 14 TD
  2. Jackson Arnold – FR
    • HS (SR) – 231/336 (68.9%); 3,476 yards; 33 TD, 3 INT, 186.3 QB Efficiency
      • 161 rushes, 921 yards, 24 TD
  3. Davis Beville – RS SR -OR-
    • 2022 – 15/30 (50%); 102 yards; 0 TD, 1 INT, 71.9 QB Efficiency
    • Career – 37/62 (59.7%); 339 yards; 1 TD, 2 INT, 104.5 QB Efficiency
  4. General Booty
    • 2022 – N/A

2022 Recap

In a wild year of transition, the new Sooner staff was looking at a completely blank QB room when they unpacked their bags in Norman. Gone were every single eligible QB that had signed to play for OU from 2018-2021: Tanner Mordecai (SMU, Wisconsin), Spencer Rattler (South Carolina), Chandler Morris (TCU), and Caleb Williams (USC(lets all be adults and admit Caleb was never going to stay in Norman)).

So what was there left to do, but rebuild from the ground up: find an immediate starter in the portal, and build some sort of depth chart behind him between HS signees and transfers. It’s not necessarily a recipe for success, and that’s exactly how OU ended up with a QB room comprised of Dillon Gabriel (UCF transfer), Davis Beville (Pitt transfer), General Booty (JUCO transfer), and already-departed HS signee Nick Evers (now with Mordecai in Wisconsin).

After the Caleb Williams band-aid was finally ripped off in January with the former DC area recruit headed to USC, Gabriel was seemingly a match made in heaven. Prior to 2022, Gabriel was not only a kid with multiple years of experience in the Jeff Lebby offense, but a kid who had also played for the new OU OC himself.

Off the heels of their Fiesta Bowl and best two seasons in program history, the plucky, undersized lefty from Hawaii started at UCF with a statement true freshman season, but his career in Orlando ended with a thud after consecutive 4 loss seasons and a season ending injury in 2021.

It seemed a fresh start was best for all parties, as newly-hired Knights head coach Gus Malzahn was leaning elsewhere in 2022, and ‘DG’ headed west to play in the Chip Kelly offense at UCLA. Thanks to keeping Gabriel’s cell number in his phone, Lebby was able to reach out at the 11th hour and keep Gabriel from stepping foot in his first class of the spring semester, an action that would have made him ineligible to transfer to Norman at the last minute.

Now we’ve had plenty of articles highlighting the razors edge that separated ‘Team 128’ from a few extra wins, and you can point to a litany of other positions that could be more integral to making it to Arlington, but let’s focus on how the QB room could look different despite having a returning starter.

2023 Projection

Now let’s consider how things have changed in year 2 of the DG/Lebby experience, as 2022 top playmakers Marvin Mims, Eric Gray, and the ever steady Brayden Willis have exited for the NFL. Furthermore, his tandem of offensive tackles are also collecting paychecks. But with an impressive showing in the bowl game to build off of in the spring & summer, is there a chance this 2023 version of the offensive line is a more well-rounded unit that can provide more support for Gabriel in 2023?

We will touch on all the positions in the coming days, but my optimistic viewpoint says yes.

Photo by Sue Ogrocki, Associated Press

Besides a stronger front, what else needs to happen for DG to take the next step? Honestly, not that much. Here is a look at his QB Efficiency by year in college:

2019 – 156.9
2020 – 156.3
2021 – 158.9 (3 games)
2022 – 154.4

The man is nothing if not consistent. Each year has been in the range of ~60%, 3,500 yards, 30 touchdowns and 6 INTs. He’s hardly deviated from those numbers year over year. As Barry and the crew showed in the article about Biggest Concerns, the money downs were simply too inconsistent to keep drives going, help the defense stay off the field, and eventually lead to points. I’ve also mentioned it before, that while his overall QB efficiency has been steady, his efficiency by down hasn’t.

DownAttCompPctYdsTDINTRating
1st Down17010964.1%1,678112166.04
2nd Down1027270.6%870100174.58
3rd-4th Down954951.6%62044111.9
Dillon Gabriel stats by down

OU coaches and fans should be just fine with 1st-2nd down DG returning this year. A QBR sitting in the 160-170 range would have this team likely in Arlington with a much better schedule and ‘likely’ defensive improvement (can’t be much worse right?!). So all we need to figure out, is how to keep the chains moving on the impact downs. One possible solution? More QB-run game.

In 20 opportunities on 3rd and 4th down, DG ran for 8 first downs. We know he’s just dangerous enough to stress a defense, but we all saw what happened the moment TCU took out (another) QB, and how the OU offense looked afterward. But the depth chart is a little different in 2023.

Insert: Jackson Arnold

While the 5-star freshman from Denton Guyer won’t be trotting out with the starting 11 anytime soon, we expect Jackson Arnold to get plenty of series early in the season to get his feet wet, to help prevent the fall off should anything happen again this season. The OL should be solid enough to keep Gabriel upright, but simply put, you have to account for it, as DG has missed multiple games in both the last two seasons.

If OU wants to make sure they don’t suffer a massive step back on offense, they need to get Arnold up to speed asap.

Bryan Terry – The Oklahoman/USA TODAY Network

A few things are working in Arnold’s favor: enrolling early and getting a full spring & summer, as well as running a version of the same offense at Denton Guyer. There were highs and lows for Arnold in the spring, and early reports from fall camp share more of the same. He simply has arm talent that no one else on campus possesses, but every freshman is going to have a learning curve.

Hindsight for fans reminiscing on Caleb Williams’ 2021 season would have you think he was unstoppable every game once he took over, but fans forget 1st half at Lawrence, or the rough three-game stretch of Baylor/ISU/OSU, where he completed 49% of his passes, averaged 160 yards per game, and had a QBR of 112. We all saw the potential that led to his Heisman just a year later, but don’t expect every pass that Arnold let’s fly to end up as a completion, first down or touchdown. We simply need to see the growth and potential that can keep us from another shutout in 2023, and ready for BMOC in 2024.

The Rest of the Room

As for Beville and Booty, I’m not sure there is much to say. Beville was a ‘break glass in case of emergency’ transfer, and unfortunately the fire extinguisher was out of pressure when we pulled the handle. Booty is making great NIL money and taking humorous photos for Instagram with his jersey. If we are down to playing either of these two, this season has likely gone off the rails.

Projected Stats

Dillon Gabriel – 198/310 (63.1%); 3,038 yards (9.8 YPA), 26 TD, 6 INT, 169.4 rating; 108 carries, 350 yards, 5 TD
Jackson Arnold – 30/50 (60%), 425 yards (8.5 YPA), 5 TD, 2 INT, 156.4 rating; 25 carries, 175 yards, 2 TD
*12 games*

Now a few things to keep him mind: OU should have another tremendous running game, with more balance than a run game that leaned on Eric Gray. We expect more QB runs similar to the bowl game (14 QB rushes), but also shorter games. OU averaged 78 plays/game last year, good enough for 6th most in the country. Look for that to dampen a bit with more rushes, more wins (milking clock), and new clock rules where clock churns after first downs. Articles have stated coaches were told to expect 7 less plays/game due to the change. As such, expect OU to be around 72 plays/game, and similar ratio to last year of 59% rush/41% pass, would see about 30 passes/game. Expect DG’s YPA and rating to take a jump with better deep ball success, as the run game and the updated WR room should have plenty of opportunities to shine. Furthermore, with improved defense, we should see more opportunities for Arnold to get some 4Q run early in the season to prepare him for any possible missed time from Gabriel.

Quarterback Room Grades

We will tie it all together with a simple grading system. Last year, the struggles in the room were widely apparent after Gabriel went down in Ft. Worth. And overall, there were enough miscues that may have costed OU a win or two. This offseason, Jeff Lebby added arguably the top QB recruit in the country, instantly upgrading the depth and opening up more of the run game from the QB position. This fall, we expect to see a full grade of improvement as Gabriel refines his game, and Arnold gets a chance to lead a few series here and there.

2022 Grade: C+
Offseason Grade: A+
2023 Projected Grade: B+

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