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OU football: Kenneth Murray shines in Sooners' season opener, shows potential for 'Speed D'

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Kenneth Murray

Junior linebacker Kenneth Murray tackles the runner during the game against Houston Sept. 1.

D'Eriq King could have gotten a first down.

It was third and five, and the Houston quarterback was looking at a 14-0 deficit early in the second quarter. After taking the snap and rolling to the right, he saw some room to run, and it looked like he had a good chance to make the play.

Kenneth Murray had a different plan. 

Right as King crossed the line of scrimmage, Murray chased him down, wrapped him up and brought him to the ground to end the Cougars' drive before they could cross midfield.

The play wasn't just Murray forcing Houston to punt for the fourth consecutive time. It was representative of a game where the junior was finally able to showcase the potential he has flashed for two seasons as a starter.

“I feel like it's just preparation paying off to be honest," Murray said. "I put all that preparation into coming into this game. We really didn’t know what they were gonna do, obviously with (new Houston coach Dana Holgorsen). We didn’t have a lot of tape, so it was about studying the rules of the defense and playing fast, and I think it paid off.”

Murray was all over the field Sunday night — disrupting plays in the backfield, rushing the quarterback and seemingly being involved in every tackle, as he finished the game with 13 total tackles, four of them for a loss of yards.

To see Murray racking up a high number of tackles isn't new to Sooner fans. He started as a true freshman in 2017 and was tied for second in the nation in total tackles with 155 in 2018.

But it wasn't just that Murray put a lot of numbers in a stat sheet. The speed and ferocity he played with electrified not only the sold-out stadium, but also his teammates.

"Wow, that boy is fast," sophomore defensive end Ronnie Perkins said. "The way he showed his speed and his burst by running King down a few times. I’ve seen it in practice, but for him to go out there and do it in front of 88,000 people, it’s still mind-blowing to me how big he is and how fast he is on the field.”

His newfound speed and intensity is likely attributed to first-year defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. Since Grinch's hire in January, he has preached his new system of "Speed D," which emphasizes playing with speed and focusing on forcing turnovers.

One way Grinch said he often helps his players play at their top speed is by keeping the schematics of his defense simple. He and the players have stressed that a large part of trying to improve Oklahoma's defense is about a change in mentality.

“I think our guys are playing fast. ‘Speed D’ is not just about running fast 40 (yard dash) times, it’s about playing fast," coach Lincoln Riley said. "And a lot of that is about mentally getting these guys to a place where they understand adjustments and scheme and all that, but not so much that it bogs them down and they can’t just go."

Murray displayed his proficiency with action in Grinch's system throughout the Sooners' 49-31 victory. The Missouri City, Texas, native was named Preseason Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, and if Sunday's game is how he plays for the rest of the season, he just might have a shot to win the award.

“(The new defensive scheme) is a lot different than what we’ve done in the past," Murray said. "Coach Grinch prides himself on being simple and keeping consistent ... It's not like we're coming in every week and installing new stuff. All we have to do is focus on the rules and play fast.”

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