There were a few plays that helped Oklahoma pull away from Iowa State last Saturday, and one of the biggest came in the third quarter.
With the Sooners leading 13-6, and facing a third-and-11, the Cyclones sent a blitz at Dillon Gabriel. The Sooner quarterback stepped up in the pocket and heaved it towards the right sideline.
He found sophomore receiver Jalil Farooq wide open, who caught the pass and strolled in for a 41-yard touchdown. It was the Sooners’ longest play from scrimmage against the Cyclones.
The play highlighted Farooq’s career day — 26 rushing yards, a team-high 74 receiving yards and his first 100-yard performance as a Sooner. The OU coaching staff awarded him both “play of the game” for his touchdown and “player of the game” for his performance.
“He played with tremendous will, passion and toughness that can deflate when he’s over there on their sideline for a couple of [big plays],” OU coach Brent Venables said Tuesday. “That’s deflating when you see a guy having tremendous will and toughness. He has developed that, too.”
Farooq has gradually become a bigger piece of the Sooners’ offense, and the Iowa State game is the latest example.
He didn’t play a big role in the Sooners’ first two games, recording one catch for nine yards during that span. His first standout performance came against Nebraska, when he finished with three catches for 58 yards and a score.
But his role has grown beyond just being a receiver. When Gabriel missed the Texas game due to concussion protocol, OU offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby installed a wildcat packages with Farooq as a centerpiece. Against the Longhorns, he finished with a team-high 60 rushing yards on five carries.
That’s been a new wrinkle for the Sooners’ offense. Farooq didn’t record a carry the first three weeks, but since then he’s recorded nine carries for 94 yards (10.4 yards per carry). The Sooners have utilized Farooq in jet sweeps and handoffs in the running game to utilize his quickness in open spaces.
Farooq’s role in the offense continues to evolve, and he’s becoming a bigger weapon.
“He’s just really athletic and can do many things,” Gabriel said. “And I think the beauty of him is he can play inside, play outside. He can get into the run game and then also [he’s] just really good on the perimeter blocking. So just having his body type but then also his mentality, he’s just down to do whatever and wanting to get the ball or help out in every single way he can.”
He’s still being utilized as a receiver, too. He’s third on the team in receptions (20) and receiving yards (269) while adding two touchdowns. In the Sooners’ last two wins, he’s turned in eight catches for 116 yards.
Lebby has seen Farooq’s understanding of the offense grow as the season goes on.
“That, to me, has been where the greatest growth has been,” Lebby said. “And then he’s now playing a lot of football. Again, he hadn’t played a ton of ball. He’s played a bunch all year, so that’s where you’ve seen a ton of growth. He’s got a great understanding. He’s done a really good job working and being the same guy every single day. We talk about that a ton, and we’re excited about where he’s going.”
To reward him for his performances this season, Farooq was named a team captain for the Sooners’ matchup with Baylor at 2 p.m. Saturday.
The Bears’ defense has been good against the run, ranking 22nd nationally in rushing defense. But they rank 58th in passing yards allowed per game (223.8), and that could be wear Farooq finds success.
Either way, he’ll be involved like he has been in recent weeks.
“It creates good momentum for him and for all of us offensively just to have another weapon,” Lebby said. “We have a pretty good understanding of what he’s capable of doing, and he has continued to stack days and get better every week. I’m excited about where he’s at.”