On the first day of October, the Fort Worth sky appeared to be falling on the 2016 University of Oklahoma football team. The then 1-2 Sooners were down 21-7 to TCU, Baker Mayfield looked like a shell of his 2015 self, Dede Westbrook looked like a poor man’s Sterling Shepard, and Lincoln Riley looked like a guy about to fall from being the nations best offensive coordinator to someone circling help wanted ads in the classifieds section of The Norman Transcript.
However, the offense caught fire. They stormed back in the second quarter to tie the game at 21 a piece, and took the lead with a 67-yard touchdown on flea flicker from Mayfield to Westbrook. The duo connected later in the quarter for 40-yard touchdown, and since then, the offense haven’t looked back.
The Sooners’ offense has been on a roll. Running lanes have been bigger for Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine, and Dimitri Flowers; receivers like Mark Andrew and Nick Basquine have become much more involved in the passing attack; and the team has reeled off seven straight wins. All those players deserve some credit for the Sooners’ offensive turnaround. But make no mistake, the stellar play of Mayfield and Westbrook has made everyone else’s jobs a lot easier.
Since the start of October, Mayfield and Westbrook have been the best quarterback-wide receiver tandem in the country. They’ve connected for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns, over the last month and a half.
For Mayfield, the sharp play has been not much of a surprise. Sure he played below his very high standards against Ohio State, sure he might hold the ball a little too long against the blitz, and sure sometimes he flushes the pocket too early. But this year, Mayfield has been the most efficient passer in the country, and he’s seen improvements from his 2015 campaign in yards per attempt and completion percentage.
But for Westbrook, this season has been a shock to even his biggest fans. After being slowed by a nagging hamstring injury and only averaging 51 receiving yards through the first 3 games, many were beginning to believe the expectations that Westbrook could step into the role of no. 1 receiver were set way too high. Fast-forward to present day, and Westbrook is not only on pace to rewrite the OU receiving record books, but also appears to be setting his sights on becoming OU’s first Biletnikoff Award winner.
Mayfield and Westbrook’s season-long improvement can be attributed to many things: better play calling, more help from the supporting cast, and terrible Big 12 defenses are just a few. Regardless of the reasons why the two have had such great seasons, they have both entered the Heisman Trophy conversation, and have even started some murmurs of a trip to the college football playoff.
Of course, Sooner fans know how having two Heisman candidates on the same team can cost both players votes that they would have received, otherwise. In 2004, Jason White may have cost the man he handed the ball off to, Adrian Peterson, a shot at becoming the first freshman to win college football’s most prestigious award. However, any USC fan will tell you that the right man won. Matt Leinart, that year’s winner, also split votes with teammate and fellow finalist Reggie Bush.
Either way, thanks to one chaotic Saturday, Oklahoma now has an outside chance at earning a spot in the College Football Playoff. Those hopes, as well as Mayfield and Westbrook’s shots at the Heisman, might be on the line tonight in Houston, Texas. As the Cougars will face Heisman frontrunner Lamar Jackson and the fifth ranked Louisville Cardinals in TDECU stadium. An upset there won’t be enough, though. If the Sooners want to end the season as victors, and reap the spoils that come with it, they’ll need to win out and root for one big thing: mayhem.