Credit Baker Mayfield for saying all the right things this week.
But don’t buy it. Not for one minute.
This game, Saturday night’s showdown in Lubbock, Texas, between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Texas Tech Red Raiders, means everything to Mayfield.
Oh sure, Mayfield downplayed the bitterness this week. Refused to acknowledge his personal agenda. But come on. All he really did was deftly deflect attention away from the fire that burns so hot within him.
After all, Mayfield doesn’t want to give anyone in Jones Stadium — whether Tech player, coach or fan — any more reason to dislike him than they already do.
“Everybody tried to talk about the ‘revenge’ or whatever, but that’s all way in the past,” Mayfield said this week. “We talked about that last year. It is going to be a little different with the fan base. That’s the first time I’m going back there since playing there. That’ll be the different part. But, for me, it’s no different than playing any other Big 12 team.”
A noble sentiment, but anyone who knows Baker Mayfield knows how silly it is to think he’s not drawing a burning motivation from being back at the scene of the crime, back in the stadium where he was shunned and told he wasn’t good enough.
Accurate or not, that’s Mayfield’s recollection.
Mayfield wakes up every day looking for ways to motivate himself. He seeks out the doubters, chases down the haters. The chip on his shoulder is permanently affixed.
You think he’s chill about going back to Lubbock? Get real.
“Baker is kind of a different guy,” said OU tight end Mark Andrews. “He kind of prides himself on stuff like this. He’s going to be amped up and ready to go. He knows what he’s going into. Most guys won’t be too nice and too friendly when he goes in there. He’s ready for that. He’ll be prepared for it. He’ll bring his A-game for sure.”
Mayfield told the story this week of going out to eat at a Lubbock establishment in 2014, when he returned on his own dime as a Sooner redshirt, and being asked to leave. There are, of course, conflicting reports, but Mayfield said he was simply there to “eat my tacos and drink my water” and he did nothing wrong. He remembers the diners booing him as he left.
Motivation is where you find it.
The tacos were probably terrible, too.
“It wasn’t as bad as what people thought (in 2014). I was able to hide and lay low,” Mayfield said. “Obviously, I wasn’t exactly welcome. It is what it is.
“That’s what makes college football, college football. The rivalries and the fan bases have fun with it. It makes it interesting.”
Bob Stoops said on Monday that he would visit with Mayfield “some” about keeping his emotions in check and just playing quarterback. He said offensive coordinator (and former Tech player and Red Raider assistant) Lincoln Riley would probably handle most of that.
“He’s not a freshman,” Stoops said. “Just stick to what’s been positive for him and good for him. The way he’s executing, why would you change any of that? So hopefully he can handle that.”
No matter what Mayfield does or doesn’t do, those notoriously ugly Tech fans will crank up their brutality. Who knows what they’ll be throwing on Saturday night? Will a demented few take it too far?
“I know the atmosphere will be great out there especially with the return of Baker,” said OU linebacker Jordan Evans. “It’s a night game and they’ll throw tortillas at us. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
“Knowing Baker, he’s a huge competitor. He’s going to be just as competitive as ever before, but at the same time, I’m sure he’s going to have a little edge about him. Who wouldn’t? You go back to where you come from, you’re always want to ball out out there. He’s going to stay focused and won’t let the moment get to him.”
Mayfield will throw a long touchdown pass to Dede Westbrook (against a lousy Tech defense, that’s a given), and then he’ll sprint 60 yards waving his arms wildly at the crowd. He’ll pull a read option and dash into the end zone (maybe he’ll even shove over a Tech defender like he did at TCU), and then he’ll lose his mind demonstrating to the crowd how excited he really is.
“Tech has a passionate fan base and I know a lot of them weren’t happy about Baker leaving,” former Mayfield teammate and fellow ex-Tech QB Michael Brewer told ESPN.com. “And Baker is a pretty outspoken guy. He’s going to go out there a little bit animated and egging them on for sure.
“I imagine it’s going to be pretty crazy.”
“I’ve gotten over everything,” Mayfield said last Saturday in Norman. “It’s all in the past, which is what I said last year. It’s about settling in and being ready to play.”
Mayfield surely doesn’t believe his own words. Not when all he has to do is look out the windows of the bus to the stadium today to see all the messages from Tech fans scrawled on bedsheets around Lubbock — messages about him killing zoo gorillas and his taste in clothing and to whom his girlfriend sends nude pics.
“We’ll see,” Mayfield said last week, “how our guys handle the violent environment we’re gonna be in.”
What’s more important for the Sooners is how Mayfield handles 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.