The move reconnects Gabriel with new OU offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, who was Gabriel’s position coach and offensive coordinator during Gabriel’s breakout freshman season in 2019. Lebby spent the last two years at Ole Miss before joining Brent Venables’ staff.
Gabriel threw for 8,041 yards, 70 touchdowns and 14 interceptions in 26 games for UCF. He suffered a broken collarbone in the final moments of the the Knights’ third game of 2021 — a 42-35 loss to Louisville — but is expected back with no complications for the 2022 season. Gabriel should have two years of eligibility remaining along with an NCAA-granted extra year of eligibility if he chooses to use it.
Flipping Gabriel is a coup for Oklahoma as Venables tries to salvage the 2022 offense. If Williams transfers as expected, Oklahoma could be losing nine starters from the Week 1 depth chart. However, Gabriel threw for 3,653 yards and 29 touchdowns to just seven interceptions in his lone season working with Lebby, all of which rank among his career best marks. Lebby coordinated the nation’s No. 7 offense with 493.2 yards per game at Ole Miss and helped turn QB Matt Corral into CBS Sports’ top quarterback draft prospect.
Gabriel’s decision is some much-needed insurance for the Oklahoma staff if the highly touted Williams ultimately opts to leave the program. Williams kept the door open for a potential return, but a departure would leave Oklahoma without a returning pass attempt on the roster. Opening-day starter Spencer Rattler previously transferred to South Carolina to rejoin former OU assistant Shane Beamer.
Conversely, losing Gabriel is a tough break for UCLA as starter Dorian Thompson-Robinson is expected to leave for the NFL Draft. If DTR leaves, Chase Griffin and Ethan Garbers would likely compete for the starting job in a pivotal Year 5 for Chip Kelly.
Prior to Gabriel’s commitment, Oklahoma’s only projected quarterbacks for 2022 were Penn State transfer Micah Bowens, who has never thrown a pass, and 2022 recruit Nick Evers. Instead, Gabriel comes to Norman with more than 900 pass attempts, including 413 in a highly-productive sophomore season.
Oklahoma finished 11-2 in 2021, a seventh straight season with only two losses. However, the Sooners failed to win the Big 12 for the first time since 2014 and later lost head coach Lincoln Riley to USC. Oklahoma went 55-10 under Riley’s watch with three appearances in the College Football Playoff. However, the newly hired Venables has been a part of 12 straight teams to reach 10 wins between stints at Oklahoma and Clemson as a defensive coordinator.