NORMAN — There was the flea-flicker that was way underthrown. There was the overthrow down the right sideline. There was the intermediate throw to his trusty tight end that sailed well out of range.
And that was just from quarterback Baker Mayfield.
The rest of the Oklahoma Sooners were similarly askew on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium, from a defense that couldn’t stop the Tulane ground game to receivers that dropped the football to a dominating offensive line that was hardly dominant, there seemed to be a haze lingering over everyone.
A scarlet and gray haze, commonly known as Ohio State.
“There was definitely a feel like that,” Mayfield said after the No. 2-ranked Sooners straightened things out and pulled away to a comfortable 56-14 victory over the Green Wave.
“Not every game is going to be Saturday night at 7 o’clock with the whole country watching and playing the No. 2 team in the country,” Mayfield said. “So obviously, last week was a little different feel than tonight.
“But that’s up to the leaders to get our guys to focus in on the next game. We were focused starting Thursday but we were a little too sloppy during the week before that. We have to realize we have to take it one game at a time. Ohio State was not the highlight of our year. We haven’t played a conference game yet. … You can’t take a win for granted; we got the win tonight. But we started too slow. We just have to improve on that.”
Oklahoma (3-0) extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 13 games by piling up 631 yards total offense and limiting Tulane (1-2) to 291 total yards — a mismatch, by all accounts.
The Green Wave forced an OU fumble to start the game, then marched 65 yards in eight plays to take a 7-0 lead on the Sooners’ home turf.
Oklahoma responded quickly when Mayfield connected with CeeDee Lamb deep down the left sideline for an 82-yard touchdown pass, but Tulane answered with another long drive, nine plays and 75 yards, to seize a 14-7 lead.
Two possessions in, the Green Wave offensive line and slithery quarterback Johnathan Brantley had essentially overwhelmed the OU defense.
“Just weren’t very alert early,” said defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, “and not very sharp.”
Mayfield’s 22-yard pass to Lamb at the goal line tied it at 14 late in the first quarter, but here came Tulane again, marching efficiently, methodically on the OU defense, converting third downs and even fourth downs on the way to re-taking the lead.
Then OU cornerback Parnell Motley jumped a short throw by Brantley and ran it back 77 yards for an OU touchdown. It changed everything — most of all that accursed Ohio State hangover.
“We weren’t as sharp as we needed to be, that was obvious and for whatever reason,” Stoops said. “Obviously, last week had a lot to do with it.”
It was another first for new coach Lincoln Riley: his first game after a monumental and emotional victory. He saw some practice irregularities in the days after returning from Columbus, and he wasn’t sure how his players would bounce back. Riley on Monday even appealed to Sooner Nation to provide an emotional shot in the arm, and 86,290 turned out in support.
But the coach realized something was amiss.
“You never know exactly,” Riley said. “Sure, you’re concerned about a letdown. You’re concerned about how they approach the week. I thought, for the most part, our mentality was good. We weren’t at our best early in the week and I thought we started to respond a little bit as the week went on and we started to challenge them as coaches. So I think we’re growing, but I think we’ve got to understand what you’ve got to put together completely to play complete games.”
It was, of course, much ado about nothing. The Sooners, a 36-point favorite, won by 42.
Mayfield righted himself enough to finish 17-of-27 for 331 yards and four touchdowns (he’s now thrown 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions this season; in fact, he’s thrown 133 consecutive passes without an interception dating back to last season’s West Virginia game). Mayfield, now with 8,711 career passing yards at OU (it’s 11,026 including his Texas Tech totals) surpassed Sam Bradford’s mark of 8,403, good for second in school history behind Landry Jones’ almost untouchable 16,686.
The OU defense also figured things out after Motley’s pick six. Before the interception, the Green Wave had amassed 12 first downs 191 yards total offense on three possessions. On their next 11 drives, Tulane totaled just 105 yards and eight first downs.
“If you’re a little off against a team that runs the ball as well as they do, then they are going to cause you some issues,” Stoops said. “To me, the tackling and (being) out of position was probably the most disheartening part of it, but our guys regrouped. I’m really proud of the way they came back in the second half and were able to gain control of it.”
Said Riley, “We know we’ve got to play better early, but when you can respond like that when some things don’t go your way, you’ve got a chance.”
Lamb, a true freshman, caught four passes for 131 yards and the two touchdowns; spring game star Marquise Brown, who didn’t even play at Ohio State, caught six passes for 155 yards and an 87-yard touchdown in the closing minutes from Kyler Murray.
The OU running game also got going with 93 yards from Abdul Adams (no hangover for him after his fumble at Ohio State) and 63 yards from Marcelias Sutton (who also didn’t play in Columbus). They combined to average 11.1 yards per carry.
Motley’s runback was a massive momentum swing, but it also gave his teammates the energy they had been lacking.
“That ignited it all,” said corner Jordan Thomas. “He got that interception and took it to the house. He put points on the board for the defense and that was huge.”
“That’s a big momentum change,” said defensive tackle Neville Gallimore. “We needed that.”
Even Mayfield acknowledged that sometimes the offensive players draw their energy from the effervescent Motley.
“We do,” Mayfield said. “He’s a guy that’s non-stop. His energy and his trash-talk reminds me of Eric Striker back in 2015 when he was on the team, just the leadership and the game-changing plays that he makes, I think, is comparable. People feed off him.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.