John Hoover

John E. Hoover: Why Baker Mayfield’s big-game struggles resurfaced against Ohio State

John E. Hoover: Why Baker Mayfield’s big-game struggles resurfaced against Ohio State
Baker Mayfield was sacked three times, threw two interceptions and afterward said, "we’re going to win a Big 12 title." (PHOTO: Ty Russell/SoonerSports.com)

Baker Mayfield was sacked three times, threw two interceptions and afterward said, “we’re going to win a Big 12 title.” (PHOTO: Ty Russell/SoonerSports.com)

NORMAN — So what’s next for Baker Mayfield?

Well, TCU, for one, after an open date. Lots to get done there. Lots to think about.

After that, Texas. So, yeah. He knows.

After another rugged performance Saturday night against Ohio State, Mayfield must rebuild his confidence for the Sooners’ Big 12 Conference run. Sounds preposterous, doesn’t it? Someone as bold and brazen as Baker Mayfield, needing a little one-on-one time with the mirror?

But it’s a fact. Losing 45-24 to Ohio State humbled him. Just like losing to Texas last year humbled him. Just like losing to Clemson in the Orange Bowl humbled him.

Let’s face it: Mayfield has not been at his best on the biggest stages.

Last year at Tennessee, he completed just 49 percent of his passes and threw two interceptions. He and Sterling Shepard took advantage of an inept Vols offense and manufactured some fourth-quarter magic, but for the first three quarters in Knoxville, Mayfield wasn’t very good.

In the Cotton Bowl last year, Mayfield his 20-of-28 passes and wasn’t intercepted, but the Longhorn defense didn’t give him time to set and throw. He was sacked six times and managed only 211 yards passing, relegated to dump-offs and check-downs.

In a showdown with TCU, before he went down with a concussion (and technically after; the Sooner medical staff let him stay on the field for two series after he was drilled in the back of the head), Mayfield completed just 9-of-20 passes for 127 yards.

Against Clemson in the College Football Playoff last year, Mayfield passed for 311 yards but was sacked five times and threw two interceptions.

And Saturday against the Buckeyes, Mayfield was 17-of-32 for 226 yards, was sacked three times and threw two picks — one was tipped at the line of scrimmage and returned for a touchdown; the other was just a dreadful decision.

To be fair, the sacks are certainly not all his fault, though he’s notorious for holding the ball too long in an effort to make magic, so he bears some responsibility there.

And, to be even fairer, Mayfield’s worst games have come against the Sooners’ best opponents — in other words, one reason he struggles is because the other team is so darn good.

But there’s also an awareness that Mayfield (and that famous chip he keeps on his shoulder) simply plays outside himself against the big boys. He tries to do too much, rather than let the game develop.

“It’s fair to say some of that has happened,” Bob Stoops said.

Gifted with a first-and-goal at the Ohio State 3-yard line — after a pretty brilliant Mayfield throw, by the way, that was hauled in by A.D. Miller — Mayfield held onto the football too long, tried to create that magic, and was sacked for a 13-yard loss. The Sooners had to settle for a field goal.

“That’s the classic example of, we’re rolling out that way but the play broke down — throw the ball out of bounds,” Stoops said. “You’ve got a great opportunity and you’re still on the 3-yard line, and he takes a big loss. So, at times, you have to take ownership. That’s another example of our execution needs to be better.”

On the next play, Mayfield did throw another brilliant pass over the middle, but it went through Mark Andrews’ hands at the goal line.

“Some of it is not all him,” Stoops said. “It’s never one guy. Some of it’s the execution of people around him.

“But, some of his big games haven’t been the best.”

Once a walk-on shunned by the big programs, once told by his coach — after earning a starting job and Big 12 rookie of the year honors — that he still couldn’t have a scholarship, Mayfield now makes his way through life constantly daring someone to doubt him, to knock the chip off his shoulder.

When it comes to Tennessee or Texas or TCU or Clemson or Ohio State, he walks in with his fists up and his jaw squared, ready for a fight.

That’s especially prominent this season as the Sooners scramble to find a playmaker at receiver and consistency across the offensive line. Mayfield may be taking on too many burdens. He may be trying too hard.

“It’s hard for me to say, ‘Is he trying too hard?’ ” Stoops said. “How do you try too hard? Everybody wants to do their very best, and he does. I know Coach (Lincoln) Riley is an excellent quarterback coach. Those guys will work through it. Baker, he’ll shine for us as we go through the year. I really believe that. The guy works too hard not to.

“Like everybody, he’ll learn from these games, and learn from them and not press too much.”


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.

 

John Hoover

Hoover wrote for the Tulsa World for 24 years before joining The Franchise, where he’s now co-host of “Further Review” on The Franchise Tulsa (weekdays 12-3, fm107.9/am1270) . In his time at the World, Hoover won numerous writing and reporting awards, including in 2011 National Beat Writer of the Year from the Associated Press Sports Editors for his work covering the Oklahoma Sooners. Hoover also covered Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oral Roberts and the NFL as a beat writer. From 2012 to 2016, Hoover was the World’s lead sports columnist. As a columnist, Hoover won national awards in 2012 and 2014 from the National Athletic Trainers Association for reporting on sports medicine and in 2015 won first place in sports columns from the Oklahoma Society of Professional Journalists. After receiving a journalism degree from East Central University, Hoover worked at newspapers in Ada, Okmulgee, Tahlequah and Waynesville, Mo. He played football at Ada High School and grew up in North Pole, Alaska. Hoover and his family live in Broken Arrow.

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