NORMAN — It was Senior Day at Memorial Stadium, but really, it was Baker Mayfield Day.
For the first time in his Oklahoma career, Sooner senior Baker Mayfield didn’t start on Saturday against West Virginia, but he did get a warm, lasting and loud welcome when he did go on the field.
The Sooners dominated the Mountaineers 59-31 with big plays and precision and long drives and, really, the works.
But they also beat WVU with a wave of emotion, fueled by their quarterback, one that endured the entire game but, with the Big 12 Championship Game rematch looming in Arlington, Texas, already has begun to fade.
“You always worry in those games about your team maybe being a little too emotional, and our team coming in was emotional,” coach Lincoln Riley said. “There was a lot of reasons to have emotions and fight, and for the most part I thought we did a good job managing it.”
Mayfield, suspended by his coach for last week’s sideline outburst at Kansas — an act that sparked heated arguments nationally, heavy consternation locally, and even press conference tears — went through Senior Day ceremonies, but then didn’t start.
Fans roared when he jogged onto the field early in the first quarter, they chanted his name several times throughout, and they gave him a standing ovation when, with a comfortable third-quarter lead, he retreated for good to the sideline.
“How loud they got when I first went in,” Mayfield said, “is something I’ll never forget. Means the world to me.”
“There might be some other times I was more emotional,” Mayfield said. “We won’t name which flag I might have been carrying. … That’s the stuff that makes college football fun.”
After tormenting West Virginia for 3 ½ hours with 281 yards and three touchdowns on 14-of-17 passing, Mayfield took a victory lap around Owen Field, high-fiving every fan in the front row.
“Just trying to give back as much as they support me,” Mayfield said. “That doesn’t justify and it’s not equal, but I’m trying to do as much as I can after everything they’ve supported me through.”
Riley — whose 11-1 record this season (8-1 in Big 12 Conference play) sets a new standard for first-year coaches at Oklahoma — said he wasn’t concerned about Mayfield’s emotions getting the best of him, but did say Mayfield might have handled himself differently in the past.
“Regardless of all that, it was gonna be emotional however you’d draw it up,” Riley said. “I was proud of him. He held it in check. … For him to play the way he did, considering all the circumstances, that’s why the guy’s the best.”
Mayfield’s replacement — for one series, anyway — did just fine in his place. Kyler Murray’s first OU start produced a 66-yard run on the first play of the game followed by a touchdown run by Rodney Anderson. Murray returned in the third quarter after Mayfield strolled off to his final home ovation and completed 2-of-2 passes for 52 yards and a touchdown.
“It was awesome to see him get loose. You can see his electric ability,” Riley said. “ … It was not the easiest situation for him, either, but he handled the week well.”
The Sooners led 21-3 and 45-10 before WVU righted itself. The Mountaineers (7-5, 5-4) came in without sharpshooter quarterback Will Grier, who led the nation in touchdown passes but last week suffered a broken finger on his throwing hand. In his place, Chris Chugunov was game (10-of-20, 137 yards) but unable to sustain anything.
Oklahoma’s defense was hot and cold, giving up drives of 64 yards (a field goal), 63 yards (a fumble) and 75 yards (a touchdown) to start the game, then forced two three-and-outs and a fumble on the next three WVU possessions.
By that time, by halftime, Oklahoma led 45-10, capped by Austin Seibert’s career-long 51-yard field goal on the final play of the half following an ill-fated Mountaineer trick play.
Offensively, running back Rodney Anderson was the star once again, rushing for 118 yards and four touchdowns on just 13 carries. The Sooners ran for 413 yards and averaged 8.9 yards per carry. In addition to Murray’s 66-yarder, Anderson had a 58-yard run and Abdul Adams popped one for 39. CeeDee Lamb caught a 62-yard pass and scored a touchdown, Marquise Brown pulled in a 56-yarder, and walk-on Myles Tease turned his only catch into a 46-yard TD from Murray.
OU actually set a school record for yards per play — 12.0, or 646 total yards on just 54 plays.
“As good a first half on all three sides of the ball as we have had all year,” Riley said. “Great team win. Just tremendous.”
And now the Sooners can turn their attention to AT&T Stadium, to the Horned Frogs, who were no match two weeks ago in a 38-20 loss to the Sooners in Norman. TCU coach Gary Patterson sounds confident that being just “20 minutes down the road” from Fort Worth, his team will have a better chance than they did on Nov. 11.
But now the No. 4-ranked Sooners also must manage the additional challenge of knowing that, with this week’s chaos — No. 1 Alabama lost to Auburn on Saturday and No. 2 Miami lost to Pittsburgh on Friday — all they have to do is beat TCU and they’re in the College Football Playoff for the second time in three years.
There’s also the little matter of Mayfield navigating another week of Heisman Trophy hype — he’s virtually assured of taking home OU’s sixth Heisman and will one day soon have his own statue in Heisman Park across the street — while trying to prepare for a championship game.
Mayfield promised Sooner Nation there won’t be any meaningful distractions this week.
“There’s one thing I know how to do,” he said, “and that’s prepare for a big game.”
There’s another thing Mayfield knows how to do: celebrate. He took in every bit of Saturday, every shout, every whisper, every push, every shove, every high five, every embrace.
Eventually, Mayfield got away from all the flaring tempers on the field and all the adulating fans in the stands and the glare of the all cameras and simply retreated to where he’s most comfortable: to the locker room, to his teammates.
“It’s pretty special to me,” he said.
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.