Baker Mayfield took two steps across the 45-yard line, extending his right arm toward Joe Dineen. The Kansas linebacker didn’t look up.
Swaying side to side, arms behind his back, Dineen tapped his feet on the turf while ignoring Oklahoma’s star quarterback. KU teammates Dorance Armstrong and Daniel Wise struck the same pose beside Dineen after the coin toss, hands interlocked behind their bodies.
Mayfield was being snubbed. After an awkward second, he snapped his head back, retreating while clapping three times — an indication that it was game on.
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The encounter was just the prologue of a Mayfield-vs.-KU feud that quickly became the story of No. 3 Oklahoma’s 41-3 victory on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
Dineen only needed a quick look at his phone after the game to see what kind of social media storm he’d helped stir up.
So why did the Jayhawks do this? Why did a one-win team intentionally rile up a title-contender before the game even started?
Dineen explained it this way: His teammates talked about it just before the game. They thought it would inspire teammates. They believed it would be a sign of KU standing its ground.
“Obviously, it wasn’t meant to be super disrespectful to them,” Dineen said. “It was really just us trying to get our guys motivated and let Oklahoma know that we were there to play.”
There was something else to it, though. KU players knew Mayfield’s short-fuse reputation, which also was a factor.
“He’s a talker, and we knew that going in,” Dineen said. “Our goal was just to try to get him rattled a little bit, get him maybe out of his comfort zone.”
It wasn’t the only way KU tried to mess with the Heisman favorite. Before the game, Armstrong got facemask to facemask with Mayfield — arms behind his back — to say something before an official separated them. Later, ESPN cameras spotted Wise yelling at Mayfield as the two crossed paths, and just before halftime, KU cornerback Hasan Defense took four steps after the QB released a pass to deliver a cheap shot to Mayfield’s right shoulder. Mayfield’s head snapped back, and Defense was flagged 15 yards for a late hit to aid an Oklahoma touchdown drive.
“I was just trying to make a play. It was in the heat of the moment,” Defense said. “It was a bonehead play by me, something I shouldn’t have done. I kind of saw him get rid of the ball, but at that point in time, I didn’t realize how much longer after the ball was gone that I hit him.”
Defense was not called for targeting, though Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley believed the play should have been reviewed for a possible ejection.
“(Baker) definitely had a target on him in this game,” Riley said. “There was a lot of late stuff with him that they were trying to get accomplished.”
Mayfield, for his part, wasn’t backing down from the chatter.
That was most evident in the third quarter. After a touchdown pass, the quarterback waved his arms in the air while yelling at KU’s coaches on the sideline. A few seconds later, after making it to the Oklahoma bench, he grabbed his crotch twice, repeated an obscenity three times, then waved his hand to a KU assistant while saying, “Come here! Come here! Come here!” ESPN chose not show this on replay because of the antics’ “graphic nature.”
Mayfield was remorseful after the game and even issued an additional statement on Twitter.
“I am a competitive player, but what I did tonight was unacceptable,” Mayfield said. “I apologize. It’s disrespectful. It’s not the example I want to set. It’s not the legacy I want to leave at OU.”
Riley said he didn’t see the gestures but would review them on film before deciding if Mayfield would face any punishment.
“It was chippy from the second that their guys decided they didn’t want to shake our hands at the coin toss,” Riley said. “The chippiness started there. But despite all that, there’s no excuse for it. Baker is a competitive guy and let his emotions get the best of him.”
Mayfield had other shenanigans too. During one point in the first half, he turned to KU fans behind the Oklahoma bench, appearing on video to say, “Y’all have one win. Go cheer on basketball.”
Dineen said he didn’t take any offense to that in particular.
“We do only have one win, so he was right with that,” Dineen said. “It’s just him talking. It doesn’t hurt my feelings, anything like that.”
So did KU’s “get-in-his-head” strategy work? For a half, the answer appeared to be yes.
The Jayhawks defense, fired up by the pregame activities, played inspired football while forcing four three-and-outs from the nation’s best offense. Mayfield also was uncharacteristically inaccurate, oftentimes looking for home-run plays when they weren’t there.
At halftime, Mayfield’s line wasn’t impressive. He was completed 7 of 13 passes for 105 yards, as KU held Oklahoma to 5.7 yards per play — well below the Sooners’ 8.5-yard average coming in.
“I think that went into it, maybe try to get in his head a little bit,” Dineen said. “Maybe fire him up too much. For the first quarter, I think it worked out in our favor.”
Like so many other games, though, KU couldn’t stay competitive because of an offense that was a net negative. The Jayhawks had just 69 first-half yards against a previously leaky Sooners defense, an effort that included a costly interception when receiver Evan Fairs knocked a catchable pass in the air to Oklahoma’s Emmanuel Beal inside the KU 15.
“We didn’t finish the game good enough. That score’s not good enough,” KU coach David Beaty said. “Those guys (in the locker room) are mad, they’re upset. I’m mad, upset, because I know we’re a better football team than what that score shows. That bothers me.”
Mayfield was 20 of 30 overall for 257 yards with three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He was replaced by backup Kyler Murray early in the fourth quarter.
Beaty was asked afterward about his team’s decision to not shake hands following the coin toss.
“I’m proud of our guys for getting to a point, ‘We’re not going to take it anymore,’” Beaty said. “You’re going to stick your feet in the ground. You’re going to defend your grass. I think we’ve got to display it better than that, honestly, but I get it. I understand where they’re coming from.”
The coach, who reiterated his team had a “classy bunch of kids in there that care about doing things right,” also believed the captains’ decision “helped us. We were ready to go.”
Beaty also said he witnessed Mayfield yelling and gesturing to KU’s sideline in the third quarter.
“Guys do what they do. I’m not sure exactly what took place,” Beaty said. “He’s not my player, so it’s not my job to manage him. It’s my job to get our guys to where they can stop him where maybe a guy doesn’t have an opportunity to do that (celebrate).”
KU, 1-10 and 0-8 in the Big 12, ends its season next week at Oklahoma State. The focus for the next few days, though, will be on what happened before Saturday’s game in Lawrence.
Armstrong and Wise both chose not to attend interviews after the game, which left Dineen to speak for the three players’ thoughts.
The linebacker said this wasn’t a specific slight to Mayfield. Whichever Sooner stepped toward the Jayhawks was not going to get a handshake.
He still understood, from a quick check of his phone, that friends and social media were going to perceive it differently.
“I guess if I got to explain why, I feel like it would be a little bit better. Obviously, on the video, it looks pretty bad, and it also looks like it’s a personal attack on Baker, which if I got to go back and explain why we were doing that like I am now, then I think it’d be a little bit more understandable,” Dineen said.
“It looks pretty bad, but I mean, it happened. So it is what it is.”