The jury is still very much out on Oklahoma quarterback Dillon Gabriel. There is a good portion of the fanbase that stands behind the lefty from Hawaii and are excited to see him lead Jeff Lebby’s offense into battle. There are also members of Sooner Nation that would rather give the key’s to the kingdom over to true freshman Jackson Arnold, and let him get as much experience as possible before facing a slate of S.E.C. opponents in 2024. Then there’s a large portion who are right in the middle. They are hoping for the best but also keeping a watchful out for the future. Regardless of which category you fall under, it’s becoming more apparent that the perception of Gabriel seems higher on a national level than here locally.
The Davey O’Brien Foundation has Gabriel listed as one of the thirty-five quarterbacks on the 2023 preseason watch list Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award, and 247Sports has him ranked as the #23 quarterback among the Power Five Conferences. Even so, there are going to be a lot of people putting on their crimson and cream t-shirts on September 2nd with a “prove it to me” mentality in regards to their quarterback.
2022 In a Nutshell
Last season, his first at Oklahoma, saw Gabriel play in more games than he had since 2019, when he was a true freshman at UCF. Yet his total yards (3,168) and passing touchdowns (25) were fewer than any season he’s played in, except for 2021 when he was limited to just three games due to injury.
Possesses Big Play Ability
It’s worth noting that the 25 quarterback sacks that Gabriel endured in 2022 were the most in any of his four collegiate seasons. Yet, he managed to produce a 62.7% completion rate, an average of 8.6 yards per attempt, and 264 yards per game. All of those were the second highest of his career. In addition he ran for 317 yards and six more touchdowns. Both of those were season highs for him.
Has To Play Better Situational Football
The biggest knock against Gabriel (besides not being Caleb Williams) was his production on third and fourth downs. His completion percentage for the season was 62.7% but on third downs it dropped to 53.4% and just a 37.5% conversion rate. Fourth down was even worse, where Gabriel converted just once out of seven attempts when passing on fourth down.
Only Spencer Sanders (53.1%) and JT Daniels (52.1%) had worse completion percentages on third down and no one had a worse fourth down passing conversion rate than Gabriel. These stats aren’t lost on the fans, and they’re certainly not lost on Jeff Lebby either, nor Gabriel himself. “Gotten a lot better in situational football, having that emphasis in spring and taking that into the summer,” Gabriel said when speaking on what he’s been working on in the offseason. “Just working on those concepts but also just those critical situations with the receivers and, of course, with the tight ends and the running backs. I also feel like efficiency that’s high on my list. Have to find ways to be even more efficient.”
As the preseason camp was set to open up, Lebby indicated the same thing as his quarterback. Third and fourth down situations had become a focus of the offseason, as well as accuracy.
The True Quarterback Competition
Barring injury, Dillon Gabriel is Oklahoma’s starting quarterback in 2023. There’s really no questioning that…as much as some people may want to. The question is, what do they do with Jackson Arnold? There wasn’t a good option behind Gabriel in 2022 and that should immediately put Arnold, a former 5-star recruit, in the driver’s seat to be QB #2. The true competition in camp is going to be if he can hold off Davis Beville and General Booty to remain in that spot.
Gabriel returns for his final collegiate season as the most experienced passer in the Big 12 and, perception-wise at least, one of the top signal callers in the country. He needs less than 800 yards to surpass 12,000 career passing yards, which would make him just the 31st quarterback to ever cross that mark. There’s certainly room for improvement but not only is there not a better option on campus, there may not be a better one in the entire conference. This is Gabriel’s team and winning a Big 12 title in Oklahoma’s final season win the conference will rest on his shoulders.
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