NORMAN — After losing 45-24 to Ohio State on Saturday night, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield was despondent.
But he wasn’t destitute. He’s trying his best to look forward despite a colossally disappointing 1-2 start—so much so that his postgame comments almost trended in the direction of those of one Tim Tebow, circa 2008, following Florida’s regular-season loss to Ole Miss. Mayfield was at the same time much more muted than Tebow, but, of course, a lot more colorful.
“I’m going to work harder than anybody in this program,” Mayfield said. “Work harder and do it harder than anybody Coach (Bob) Stoops has ever seen. I’m going to push and we’re going to win a Big 12 title.
“That’s my mindset. Gotta bounce back. Yeah, it sucks. We got our asses kicked. They came in, they had a great game plan, they played well. (Ohio State QB) J.T. Barrett played well. They capitalized on my mistakes, on my turnovers. They played better than us. In big games like that, your big-time players and captains need to show up and I didn’t. That’s on me.”
“There’s things that he’s gotta do better,” said offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. “And he will. That’s the kind of player that he is. Our expectations are pretty high of him.”
Somehow, Ohio State wideout Noah Brown caught four touchdown passes on Saturday night. He had five receptions all of last season. Brown’s secret? Find the weak link on OU’s defense — that would be the cornerback opposite Jordan Thomas — and exploit it.
He beat Perrish Cobb twice on a fade route, then got Thomas turned around on a fade-post-corner, then made the play of the day — maybe the play of the year — by making a one-handed catch against Michiah Quick while pinning the ball to Quick’s back and falling out of bounds.
Cobb and Quick never turned around to play the ball, and Bob and Mike Stoops were not happy about it. Against Houston, it was Dakota Austin who kept losing his man.
“The younger guys just getting lost, learning how to flip and get on top of routes, obviously needs to improve,” Mike Stoops said.
“Just, I guess, not coached well enough, not athletic enough or skilled enough to put themselves in position, technique, whatever it may be,” Bob Stoops said. “You can name any of ‘em. I didn’t say it was any one of ‘em. It’s all of it together.
“They’ve got to be able to make that play. I see other people around the country make it. We’ve got to find a guy that can do it.”
Bob Stoops said the Sooners were “pretty beat up” after the game. Ohio State ran faster and just hit harder than most teams.
“We got a lot of guys that have some injuries to look at,” he said. “The only one I know for sure is Cody Ford has a broken (bone in his lower left leg).”
Ford started the first three games at left guard. When he left, center Jonathan Alvarez switched to left guard and senior Erick Wren came in at center.
Junior safety Steven Parker also left the game with an undisclosed injury, but Mike Stoops said was “up and at ‘em in the locker room. He seemed good, so hopefully not.”
Also, defensive tackle Matthew Romar, who missed almost the entire preseason because of a concussion, “just got banged up throughout the course of the week,” Mike Stoops said, and was unable to play against the Buckeyes. “That was tough.”
Inexplicably, Joe Mixon — perhaps trying to act cool, maybe just being a dunderhead — dropped the football, on purpose, on his way into the end zone at the end of a 97-yard kickoff return. Video replays and still photos showed Mixon still at the 1-yard line and already having dropped the ball behind him.
Fortunately for him and for the Sooners, the Big Ten officiating crew and the Big 12 replay crew were completely oblivious, even though Fox showed several versions of the replay.
“Oh, obviously that’ll be something that we put up on the screen Monday,” Stoops said.
Leaders gotta lead
Among the numerous aspects of Saturday’s failure for which Stoops accepted the blame was his team’s lack of leadership.
The Sooners sent vocal leaders like Sterling Shepard, Eric Striker, Charles Tapper and Zack Sanchez to the NFL, and this team has lacked focus, execution and poise throughout both the Houston and Ohio State losses.
“It’s fair to say the leadership isn’t close to what it was a year ago,” Stoops said. “But that’s on me. I’m in front of the program. I gotta do a better job. And I gotta do a better job developing players to be that.”
Joe Mixon had just three rushes during the Sooners’ first nine possessions, a total of 40 offensive plays. Stoops said he trusts offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley to call the right plays to get the ball into the hands of the right players. But then Stoops asked how much would more Mixon have actually helped.
“I thought we moved the football pretty decent, alright?” he said. “And whether Joe’s in there or not on third and fourth down and we throw it and don’t execute it or throw an interception, I don’t think that would have changed it. And he didn’t miss the field goal, either. So it’s not like we weren’t moving the ball.”
Mixon finished with a team-high 78 yards on just nine carries.
“That many possessions and that many plays, I want Samaje (Perine) to touch it more, I want Joe to touch it more, I want Dede (Westbrook) to touch it more, I want Mark (Andrews) to touch it more,” said offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. “When we’re playing like that, it’s not our best and Joe along with the others, it’s not gonna be what we need.
“That’s one of the beauties of this offense when it’s rolling is that you want to keep everybody involved and you want to make them defend the entire field. So there’s a little give and take. I’m certainly aware of who we need to get it to. And that’s probably a little bit more through the game plan than it is on game day, if you will. You’ve got to have a plan to get those guys involved, and obviously I’ve got to do a better job there.”
Samaje Perine came into 2016 needing just over 1,000 yards to break Billy Sims’ school rushing record. At this pace, however, Perine will need another year.
Through three games, Perine has just 33 carries for 149 yards. Saturday against the Buckeyes, he carries 17 times (he had 16 combined in the previous two games) but averaged only 3.5 yards per carry and gained 60 yards.
“I think he’s still finding his footing a little bit,” Riley said. “He’s healthy, but you miss all the time that he has, even with his experience and all that, missing all spring, missing parts of camp, it’ll be a work in progress with him.
“But I think in the three games, he’s taken jumps each game. I see him getting closer and closer back to the guy he’s gonna be. Still making some big plays for us, and the ones he’s not are close.”
Stoops said kicker Austin Seibert may be losing confidence in himself, and that’s causing Stoops to lose confidence in him.
After missing a 27-yard chip shot on the Sooners’ opening drive, Seibert — a powerhouse punter and kicker who was a freshman All-American last season — slumped.
“There wasn’t a problem with the operation,” Stoops said. “That was my first question, and there wasn’t. He just hit a bad ball. Which leads to, then he hit a horrible punt and then the next drive or two, he had a (possible) 50-yard field goal and (instead) I went for it on fourth down because I didn’t feel he was (having) any kind of confidence or (was in good mental) shape to go for it. And then we don’t convert (on fourth down). So, everything just kind of snowballs together.”
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.