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Oakland A’s draftee moves focus to football with OU

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — As the season approached, Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray often said he wanted to shift the focus back to football.

Sure, he was a first-round Major League Baseball draft pick who signed with the Oakland A’s for nearly $5 million this summer. But Murray came back to school to play football, so he evaded baseball questions like sliding to avoid hits.

He’s given folks plenty of reason to talk about his exploits on the gridiron heading into Saturday’s game at Iowa State. He has completed 64 percent of his passes for 515 yards and five touchdowns and rushed for 92 yards and two more scores for the fifth-ranked Sooners (2-0).

One of the fastest Sooners, Murray was known more for his running ability before this season. The redshirt junior has made his biggest impression in the passing game so far.

“He’s thrown the ball really well,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. “Really well. He missed a couple of short ones in the flat Saturday and other than that, his throws were spot on. Deep balls. Intermediate. Sideline. Everything. He’s thrown the ball great.”

Murray started three games at Texas A&M in 2015, then transferred to Oklahoma and redshirted in 2016. He was the backup to Heisman winner Baker Mayfield last season, and he beat out Austin Kendall to win the job during camp. He’s helped the Sooners move on without Mayfield, who plays for the Cleveland Browns.

“It doesn’t feel like he’s doing it for the first time,” Riley said. “And in reality, he’s not. It’s a little different situation, but he’s been in a lot of big moments with the spotlight on him kind of throughout his life. So he’s learned to handle it pretty well.”

The pressure on Murray increased when star running back Rodney Anderson sustained a season-ending right knee injury last Saturday against UCLA. Murray still believes the Sooners can have the nation’s best offense with backup running backs Trey Sermon, Marcelias Sutton, Kennedy Brooks and T.J. Pledger.

“I don’t think anyone in the country has a guy like Rodney,” Murray said. “For us to try to replace him is going to be tough. But I don’t think we’ll have to. We’ve got a lot of guys in the offensive room that can make plays. We’ll see guys step up.”

Murray still runs, too — he was Oklahoma’s leading rusher with 69 yards during last week’s 49-21 win over UCLA. But at only 5-foot-10 and 195 pounds, he tries not to take too many hits. Riley said Murray has done a good job of deciding when to take off and when to avoid it.

“He’s been extremely patient in the pocket — honestly, probably, a little more maybe than I would have guessed,” Riley said. “He’s been extremely patient. Trusts our linemen and our backs on their blitz pickups, and he’s stood in there and made throws.”

Two of Murray’s playmakers, Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb, have caught some throws that were slightly off target. Brown has 10 catches for 221 yards and two touchdowns and Lamb has nine catches for 189 yards and a score.

“They make my job a lot easier, obviously,” Murray said. “’Quise being able to do whatever he wants on the field, he’s a fast guy. CeeDee as well. But those aren’t the only two guys we have. I’m pretty confident in every receiver on the team.”

Murray still is looking to improve. He felt he wasn’t accurate on a few passes against UCLA that might have been completions.

“I was a little unsatisfied with the way things went on Saturday just because we kind of stalled out at times when we had drives going,” he said. “But other than that, yeah, it’s been a good two games so far.”