Without prompting, Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops referenced last season’s game against Texas Tech. That was a crazy shootout that produced 125 points and helped define the Red Raiders quarterback, Patrick Mahomes as a premium NFL prospect who ultimately was selected in the first round by the Chiefs.
The Sooners 62-52 victory over Oklahoma State on Saturday had the same feel, a similar score and another fantastic game by the opposing quarterback. This time, it was the Cowboys’ Mason Rudolph, who passed for 448 yards and five touchdowns.
The common thread through both contests was an Oklahoma triumph and an incredible performance by the Sooners’ quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Last year, it was seven touchdown passes. Saturday, Mayfield threw for a school record 598 yards with five touchdowns and might have become the front runner for the Heisman Trophy.
Mayfield, bold enough to plant a flag on Ohio State’s field after that triumph earlier this season, stiff armed trophy talk as he did the Oklahoma State defender on his touchdown run. His topic of choice was playing to the demand of the Oklahoma program.
“Winning around here is expected,” Mayfield said. “Beating Oklahoma State is expected as well. That’s the standard.”
Oklahoma expectations are climbing after Saturday. The Sooners became the Big 12 favorite, a role that’s good for at least this week with a visit from TCU next weekend.
But that victory at Ohio State, even with the Buckeyes’ lopsided loss at Iowa on Saturday, remains the best chip by a Big 12 school when it comes to College Football Playoff perspective.
At No. 5, the Sooners were the highest ranked of the Big 12 schools in the first rating. They’re in the best position to land a playoff spot by winning out.
The victory at Oklahoma State was a big step, and Mayfield made it happen. In a game that lasted more than four hours, several plays stand out, but one might have been the most impressive. A 43-yard touchdown pass to running back Rodney Anderson late in the third quarter ended with Anderson flipping into the end zone. Highlights love the airborne body.
What won’t get as much attention but should was how Mayfield made the play happen. A moment before a pair of Cowboys’ defenders arrived, Mayfield turned and threw to where he knew Anderson would be.
Rudolph passed for his 448 passing yards, and Oklahoma State running back Justice Hill rushed for 228, topping the school’s record of 215 in a Bedlam game by Barry Sanders. Those type of numbers are good enough to handle most opponents.
But not Mayfield and the Sooners, not on Saturday.
“I knew they were good,” Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “But I never would have expected that.”
Mayfield wasn’t perfect. The first and final passes he threw that were caught were interceptions, and the second one could have been a crusher. It was a rare bad decision that resulted with a pick in the end zone with Oklahoma holding a three-point lead.
But the Pokes couldn’t cash in, and the Sooners survived continued improbable success in this series, winning for the 15th time in 16 games when both teams are ranked.
By the end of this game, Mayfield had the best day of the Heisman contenders, including running backs Saquon Barkley of Penn State, Josh Adams of Notre Dame and Stanford’s Bryce Love, along with quarterback J.T. Barrett of Ohio State. Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate, who didn’t start until a month ago but has piled up amazing numbers, was set to play Southern California later Saturday.
Mayfield knows his way in a Heisman race, having finished in the top four of the voting each of the past two seasons. He would become the fifth player in college football history, and the first since Georgia running back Herschel Walker in the early 1980s, with three top-four finishes.
And two Oklahoma quarterbacks — Jason White in 2003 and Sam Bradford in 2008 — have captured Heismans in the Big 12 era.
Mayfield could, perhaps should be next. Saturday there were no poses, or jawing with fans or flag planting. But the game could have been Mayfield’s Heisman moment.