Arizona football to face Oklahoma 5-star freshman QB Jackson Arnold at Alamo Bowl

Dec 26, 2023, 10:41 AM

Jackson Arnold...

Jackson Arnold #10 of the Oklahoma Sooners throws a pass during the second half of their game against the Brigham Young Cougars at LaVell Edwards Stadium on November 18, 2023 in Provo, Utah. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — After all the hype, the Jackson Arnold era is set to begin at Oklahoma.

It came a bit earlier than expected. Dillon Gabriel, the first-team Associated Press All-Big 12 quarterback, has transferred from Oklahoma to Oregon. That has left Arnold — a five-star true freshman — as the new starter heading into No. 12 Oklahoma’s Alamo Bowl matchup with No. 14 Arizona on Thursday.

In 2022, Arnold was the Gatorade National Player of the Year and MVP of the Elite 11 quarterback competition. He enrolled at Oklahoma in January and participated in spring ball, helping him earn the spot as Gabriel’s backup.

Sooners fans have clamored to see more of him, and now they’ll get a full dose of perhaps the next great player at a program that has featured Gabriel, Heisman winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray, Jalen Hurts, Spencer Rattler and Caleb Williams in recent years.

Gabriel has been one of the most productive quarterbacks in FBS history, yet the Sooners have carried on as usual in his absence with Arnold next in line.

“Having the coaches’ trust is a huge thing for me, and knowing that the coaches are trusting of me to go out and perform my best and they’re not changing the game plan whatsoever — we’re running the same stuff,” Arnold said. “We would’ve run the same stuff if Dillon was here, too, so just that trust they have in me is really special to me.”

In limited action, Arnold has completed 75% of his passes, demonstrating exceptional accuracy while running and scrambling effectively.

“I’ve watched Jackson since he’s been here,” Oklahoma receiver Jalil Farooq said. “I’ve watched him grow up. Him stepping up in the room — I’m very excited to see him play in the bowl game. I can’t wait until he showcases his talent. He’s a great dude, a great leader. He can sling it.”

Arnold helped the Sooners beat BYU after Gabriel was knocked out of the game in the first half. With Oklahoma leading 31-24 in the fourth quarter and trying to hold onto the lead, Arnold directed a possession that ran the final 5:08 off the clock. His eight-yard completion for Farooq on a third-and-eight effectively sealed the game.

“I would say that the No. 1 thing that stands out for me as I watch him and his growth is just his consistency,” Oklahoma coach Brent Venables said after Arnold’s performance against BYU. “He’s never too high, never too low. He’s just always the same guy every day. Likes to compete, makes the most of his opportunity, values his opportunity, respects the game and what it takes to develop. So he’s got great work ethic. And he understands as much as anybody you get what you earn.”

Arnold will be working with a new offensive coordinator. Oklahoma promoted Seth Littrell from offensive analyst after Jeff Lebby left to become Mississippi State’s head coach.

“I’ve been close with coach Littrell since he got here, a constant communication since he’s got here,” Arnold said. “He’s helped me develop as a player, even while not in the OC role. It’s been super great to get to know him, and I’m super happy he’s in the OC role now.”

The Sooners also have promoted tight ends coach Joe Jon Finley to co-offensive coordinator. Finley will continue to coach tight ends and will play an increased role in offensive game-planning and oversight.

Venables sees benefits in ushering in a new quarterback and offensive coaches ahead of a bowl game and before joining the Southeastern Conference next year.

“You have a small amount of time,” Venables said. “In a perfect world you’d have more time. But that’s just not where college football — we’re not the only team. It’s across the country. So we’ll adjust and adapt.”

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