NORMAN — These days, Baker Mayfield is living a decidedly charmed life.
The Oklahoma quarterback has a newly sprouted superstar wide receiver who has somehow convinced Sooner Nation that it’s OK to let Sterling Shepard go.
Mayfield has the luxury of not one powerful, bruising, spectacularly dynamic running back, but two (one of whom is no threat to take over Mayfield’s quarterbacking duties but hey, turns out Joe Mixon can throw, too).
Mayfield got to hang with old pal Trevor Knight, who was in town Saturday taking a weekend sabbatical from his duties as Texas A&M’s latest cult phenomenon.
And dancing and dashing around OU’s newly bowled in wind tunnel of a stadium, Mayfield found no problem whatsoever in throwing the football during his team’s 38-17 victory over Kansas State on Saturday.
“You have to spin it a little more,” he said, speaking of footballs in particular but maybe also generalizing about what it’s like to be Baker Mayfield.
Mayfield completed 25-of-31 passes for 346 yards and four touchdowns against a K-State defense that had been definitively established as the best in the Big 12 Conference.
He had a better day statistically against the disciplined, fundamentally sound Wildcats than he did the week before against Texas’ dumpster fire of a defense now coached by Charlie Strong himself.
“We know our potential,” Mayfield said, “and when we go out there and do our job, it looks easy.”
It certainly looks a lot easier with a healthy Dede Westbrook, who caught nine passes for 184 yards and three TDs against KSU. Westbrook was good early and good late, running away from the defense with an 88-yard touchdown pass from Mayfield that couldn’t have been thrown any more perfectly.
In his last three games, Westbrook has 26 catches for 574 yards and eight touchdowns. No OU receiver ever has put up numbers like that — not Mark Clayton, not Ryan Broyles, and not Shepard.
“Dede has been capable of what he’s doing right now all along,” Mayfield said. “That’s why he was such a highly recruited juco guy. We’ve been waiting for it for a while. When you have a guy like Shep last year, he kinda covers up what Dede was capable of. He’s been able to do this all along. Now you guys are seeing it.”
Meanwhile, OU’s running game on Saturday continued to blossom in its own way.
Against college football’s third-ranked run defense (KSU had allowed only 80.8 yards per game coming in), the Sooners managed 138 yards on the ground. Of that, 88 came from Mixon (on 19 rushing attempts) because starter Samaje Perine left after the first drive with what Bob Stoops called a muscle pull (Perine could have returned, Stoops said).
Remember, last week against Texas it was Mixon who struggled (just 3.0 yards per carry, three fumbles) while Perine hammered the ‘Horns 35 times for 214 yards.
“You saw some success in the passing game,” Mayfield said, “because those guys (on the K-State defense) were still worried about our run game even when Samaje wasn’t in there.”
Mayfield also benefitted from a devil-may-care offensive coordinator who picks on overly aggressive cornerbacks with downfield throws from his mercurial young running back, and who figures the best way to salt away a 14-point lead coming off his own goal line with six minutes left isn’t to grind down the clock but rather to uncork a deep post against man-to-man coverage.
Mixon’s 26-yard TD pass to Westbrook late in the third quarter gave the Sooners a 31-10 lead, and Mayfield’s 88-yard bomb to Westbrook with 6:31 to play iced the game.
“You have to stay aggressive against a defense like K-State,” OU play-caller Lincoln Riley said. “If you start to get conservative and start to hand it off every single time, they will prey on you.”
The end result is a Mayfield who has chilled out, a Mayfield who seems relaxed and plays loose and free. No longer encumbered by the weight of carrying the passing game like he did the first three games — throwing low-percentage deep balls when easy check-downs were there, holding onto the ball too long and taking a sack while waiting for a receiver to get open — Mayfield can be himself.
In three games since losing to Ohio State and hitting the refresh button during an open date, Mayfield has completed 76 percent of his passes (70-of-91) for 1,010 yards (337 per game) and nine touchdowns (plus three more rushing).
He’s been almost as good as Knight, the former Sooner QB from whom Mayfield usurped the starting job. Knight was in Norman this week to cheer on his twin brother, OU tight end Connor Knight, but also to hang out with his former teammates.
“Good to see Trev,” Mayfield said. “I’m very happy for him, and he’s a guy everyone in this room should be happy for. He’s worked his butt off to be where they’re at.”
The Aggies are 6-0 and ranked No. 6, and Knight ranks fifth in the Southeastern Conference with 1,500 passing yards, eighth with 502 rushing yards, first with nine rushing touchdowns, first with 18 total TDs, and third with 333.7 yards total offense per game.
Both Knight and Mayfield have huge games next weekend.
A&M visits Alabama. Does anybody in Oklahoma still remember Knight’s supernatural performance against the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl? Around here they do.
“I believe Trevor is undefeated against the SEC, if I’m not mistaken. So … ” Mayfield said wryly.
Mayfield, meanwhile, visits his old school, Texas Tech, for the first time as a starting quarterback.
“The old fan base. Yeah,” Mayfield said. “They’ll be ready for me when I get down there, that’s for sure. I’m excited for it. It’s always fun to go play in Lubbock. Obviously, this time, I’m on the other side of it. But it’ll should be an interesting matchup. I’ll get my guys ready, and should have a good time.”
Mayfield is riding such a wave of success right now that when Saturday’s game had ended, he sought out a brief postgame exchange with K-State legend Bill Snyder, and they shared an intimate moment.
“He’s always been a big fan of mine and I’ve always been a big fan of his,” Mayfield said, as if this was a completely normal thing. “I shook his hand before the game and I talked to him right after coach Stoops did after the game. He’s a class act. There’s a reason why he’s been there so long and everyone loves him around that town.”
There’s a reason why everyone loves Mayfield around this town, too.
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard on The Franchise Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. every weekday with co-host Lauren Rew and most mornings on The Franchise in Oklahoma City. Listen on fm107.9, am1270 on the 107.7 Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.