OU football: Dillon Gabriel looking to build, improve on early-season performances

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Sep. 14—Shortly after Oklahoma's 33-3 win over Kent State last Saturday, quarterback Dillon Gabriel took the blame for the offensive struggles in the first half.

Three days later, not much has changed for Gabriel after watching the game film.

"[There's] a lot to clean up," Gabriel said Tuesday. "I feel like we did a good job of flushing it and making sure we make changes and the necessary changes on everyone's part. And to be quite honest, I think there's just so much to learn from, so much to grow from and that's the beauty of it, too, is they're fixable and things that we can definitely get better at."

That's been the mantra for Gabriel through the team's first two games — there's been a lot of positives and some things to build on.

The stats show Gabriel has been solid to start the season. He's completed nearly 71 percent of his passes, which ranks 22nd nationally, while throwing for 529 yards, five touchdowns and zero turnovers. His 190.07 passer rating — a formula that uses passing yards, touchdowns, number of completions and interceptions to reflect a quarterback's performance level — ranks eighth nationally.

He struggled a bit in the first half against Kent State, completing just six passes over the Sooners' scoreless first four drives. But he went 5-for-5 on the team's final drive of the half, capping it off with a 36-yard touchdown to Marvin Mims.

He was much better in the third quarter, completing 9-of-10 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns while leading the Sooners to 24 points in the quarter.

It's those moments that flash the potential of the offense with Gabriel under center.

"Love how efficient he was throwing the football, obviously, and taking care of the football," OU offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby said. "Those things are going to be huge in us moving forward the right way, but continuing to take care of the rock, again, that's where it's all going to start for us. Proud of him from that standpoint.

"Love how he's played with great effort. He's had incredible command. He's been really accurate. Just so many things to continue to improve on."

However, those first four drives against Kent State showed where Gabriel and the OU offense can improve.

The Sooners recorded just two first downs in the first quarter, as the team struggled to gain positive yards on first and second down. As a result, third downs have been an issue — the team failed to convert on all four of their third-down attempts in the first quarter and finished just 3-of-12 attempts for the game.

He also struggled at times with decisiveness in the pocket, and he was sacked twice in the first quarter after he struggled to throw the ball away.

"That's a big part on my end," Gabriel said. "Taking care of the football, getting us back to either zero or away from a negative. And throwing the ball away when things aren't there or when I'm outside the pocket. Trying not to lose any yards, especially on first and second down, and then if we're in field goal range. I just gotta be better at that. I'm definitely super critical of my play and try to be better in every aspect."

Gabriel's constant focus on improving has made him a great team leader on and off the field, OU coach Brent Venables said. And he's confident that Gabriel will continue to build on his performances through two games.

"He's an assassin," Venables said following last Saturday's win. "This is not his first rodeo. He's been around the game. He's just a ball junkie. He's a great leader. The game comes easy to him in so many ways, but his best attribute is he never gets too high or too low. He's the same guy. Every once in a while, he'll have a nice smile when he has a big-time play, but he's the same guy every day, like non-stop."

While there are areas that need improvement, Gabriel has been a solid presence at quarterback so far this season. Lebby is confident the team's offense is in a better spot early this season compared to other places he's been.

"It's because of who's catching the snap," Lebby said. "We've got a guy that's got great understanding."

Jesse Crittenden is the sports editor of The Transcript and covers OU athletics. Reach him at jesse@normantranscript.com or at 405-366-3580