NEW ORLEANS — Baker Mayfield recalls his experience getting to know Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson during their brief stay in New York as finalists for this year’s award.
On Saturday before the ceremony, Jackson, the Louisville quarterback, asked Mayfield, the Oklahoma quarterback, what time Sunday he was flying back home. About 9 a.m., Mayfield said.
“He said he thought he was flying back at 10,” Mayfield recalled. “I said, ‘You’re staying until Tuesday.’ He said ‘Why are you saying that?’ I said, ‘They keep the Heisman winner until Tuesday.’
“He looked at me like I was crazy. He’s such a humble guy. I really enjoyed being around him. He’s a special player but it was even refreshing to see how humble he is and how great of a guy that he is.”
Perhaps Mayfield can remind Jackson of that story again next year, if the two are fortunate enough to return to the Big Apple for another Heisman moment.
Mayfield certainly has set himself up for a redux: announcing his intention to return to OU after the Sooners’ final regular-season game; forming a strong enough bond that helped convince offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley to not go chase just any old mid-major head coaching job; pulling off a recruiting coup that brings back left tackle Orlando Brown to anchor a sturdy offensive line.
Now, if he can just get Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon to come back for one more year. …
Maybe not. Anyway, although Monday’s Sugar Bowl showdown against Auburn should be enough to get any quarterback’s competitive juices flowing — the Tigers may be the best OU opponent since Ohio State back on Sept.17 — Mayfield clearly wants more in 2017.
The Sugar Bowl is nice, but last year he led the Sooners to the College Football Playoff. A return, and beyond, is the next step Mayfield wants OU to take.
“If we put the pieces together, we’ll have a great shot at running for a national title,” Mayfield said. “All of those guys realize that. All I have to say is I’m coming back. They know how I feel.”
No. 14-ranked Auburn (8-4) and its Southeastern Conference defense and potential NFL talent across the roster presents a physical style of play that No. 7-ranked Oklahoma (10-2) hasn’t faced since the Buckeyes. In between those goliaths were nine consecutive victories against Big 12 Conference opponents, by an average of 19 points per game.
During that winning streak, Mayfield has been spectacular. He completed 60 percent of his passes or better in all nine games, and surpassed 70 percent six times. After being sacked eight times against Houston and Ohio State, he was sacked only 10 times against the entire Big 12 schedule. Five of his six 300-yard games came against Big 12 teams, and his passer efficiency rating was 195 or better six times in Big 12 play.
Let’s face it: playing in the Big 12 was a big reason Mayfield found himself in New York City discussing flight times with the Heisman winner.
Auburn plays a different brand of football.
“We’re pretty confident in the guy we have,” Riley said on Friday. “… They’re going to test us in every facet of our game. They have done a great job of stopping the run. They are really athletic in the secondary, and they rush the passer, you know, as good as anybody in the country. So I mean, those three things tell you why they have done what they have done defensively.
“So we will be tested. Baker will be tested. But if there’s any guy that will be ready for it, he’s the one.”
Mayfield certainly has heard all the talk about how Auburn more closely resembles the big, bad, brutish Buckeyes than do any of the Sooners’ Big 12 opponents.
But remember, it’s the talk (and, really, just about anything) that gives Mayfield his motivational fuel.
“Their front line really sets the tone for their whole defense,” Mayfield said. “They have a bunch of players that wreak havoc. They allow their secondary and linebackers to play aggressively because they know they don’t have to cover people that long because of the talent up front. It starts up front with those guys making plays, but then also it allows those guys in the back half to make defensive plays.
“It starts up front, almost like every football game, it starts at the line of scrimmage — but especially this one. It’s going to be a physical one.”
In Mayfield’s eyes, playing Auburn in the Sugar Bowl on Monday night is more than just the Sooners’ next game: it’s the next step to his ultimate goal, and knocking off another SEC team in SEC country would set up OU nicely for a title run (and maybe a Heisman run) next season.
“In my mindset, I always want to win a national championship,” he said. “We didn’t do the things early on to do that. The mindset that we had is, the next game is the most important. You could either focus on the negatives or on the positives to try and get better. That’s the mindset that has gotten us here. That’s why we’re in the Sugar Bowl. That’s why we went undefeated in the Big 12. That’s how we handled it.”
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.