COLUMBUS, Ohio – With his trademark headband soaked in sweat, eye-black melting into his beard and a halogen smile visible from Enid, Baker Mayfield sprinted to Ohio Stadium’s north end zone. Mayfield saluted the rowdy throng of Oklahoma fans and executed his most memorable play on a night filled with them.
He snagged an oversized crimson-and-cream flag, paraded it down the Ohio State sideline and delivered the final salvo to No. 5 Oklahoma’s 31-16 blowout victory at No. 2 Ohio State.
Mayfield took a hard left turn to midfield, sprinted to a mob of teammates congregated at the block ‘O’ and planted the Oklahoma flag there. Mayfield threw over the Buckeyes secondary for 386 yards and three touchdowns, freelanced through the defensive line to extend plays and ended the night piercing both Ohio State’s soul and field. The moment capped a historic and humiliating night for Ohio State, which suffered its worst home loss since Illinois thumped them here in 1999.
Nearly one year after Ohio State thrashed the Sooners in Norman, 45-24, Mayfield was the lead writer on a drastically different script. “That was embarrassing for them to sing their fight song on our field,” Mayfield said of the game in Norman last season. “They are probably feeling the same way right now.”
The victory catapulted Mayfield to the forefront of the Heisman Trophy race, solidified Oklahoma as a College Football Playoff contender and gave the Big 12 an adrenaline shot of relevance after serving as an offseason punching bag. But the stakes and statistics can’t match the feeling of both the unadulterated elation reverberating through the Sooners and shock at the tenor of how Ohio State lost the game. God bless Mayfield, who not only elaborately shows up opponents after victories, but still finds time to guzzle truth serum before press conferences: “We should have won by a lot more,” he said matter-of-factly.
And he was right. That type of aura of invincibility emanated from the Sooners. Lincoln Riley, in his second game as Oklahoma’s coach, danced and swayed in his postgame interview with Mayfield like they were auditioning to co-star in a millennial buddy movie. Riley ducked out of there and waded through the swath of Oklahoma supporters looking for someone to hug. When he found some targets – players, support staff and fans – he embraced them with such emotion that they elicited a distinct sound. It was the echo of the thumping of the previous 60 minutes. Mayfield stopped for selfies with Oklahoma fans. Defensive end Ogbonnia Okoronkwo struck a pose for photographs at the 30-yard line, frozen moments for a night that will long be remembered in Oklahoma history. It was just the second time in Oklahoma’s storied history that the Sooners went on the road to beat a non-conference team ranked No. 1 or 2 in the Associated Press poll. The other one came in 1963, when the Sooners won at USC in Bud Wilkinson’s final season. “Tough place to win, obviously,” Riley said. “To come and get this done was a lot of fun.”
At 34, Riley is the youngest coach in all of college football. Any lingering questions over his readiness for one of the blue-blood jobs in the sport disappeared in the first chill of fall. That’s because Riley dialed up a masterful performance calling plays, as the Oklahoma offense ran like a Mercedes on the Autobahn. Riley isolated skill players in space, exploited pressures with quick passes to the vacated flat and left Mayfield in position to make plays all night. Oklahoma averaged 6.8 yards per play, a thorough enough thrashing that defensive coordinator Mike Stoops even trolled Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano in his press conference. (In the preseason, Schiano was quoted saying his defensive line at Ohio State was better than the one he’d coached in Tampa Bay. Stoops joked about the Buckeyes being better than the “Cleveland Browns” before being corrected.)
The Ohio State offense looked like a 1987 Yugo with a banana stuffed in the tailpipe trying to start on a sub-zero February morning. The further Ohio State fell behind, the worse they looked. (Mayfield, still guzzling the truth serum, correctly noted that the Sooners made the Buckeyes one-dimensional.) Ohio State was mediocre in two dimensions and downright dismal in one. Senior quarterback J.T. Barrett’s struggles as a pocket passer have gone from worrisome to Code Red, as he’ll spend the week being the most criticized player with a 27-5 career record in college football history. “We need to find a sequencing of plays to get us in the flow,” said Ohio State co-offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, “because tonight we were a little bit disjointed.”
Meyer reiterated multiple times after the game that he wouldn’t consider replacing Barrett as a starter. Things got so bleak for the Buckeyes on offense that former quarterback Cardale Jones trolled Meyer on Twitter, noting that the Buckeyes “need that need that magical pixie dust on offense right about now.” The zinger – a dagger even by Jones’ lofty standards – referenced Meyer’s controversial quote about former Buckeye offensive coordinator Tom Herman. Meyer took issue with Herman for what he perceived as Herman taking a shot at the team he inherited at Texas, saying comments of that nature drive him “insane.”
But it’s the Buckeyes who look like they could use some pixie dust, as Barrett finished 19-for-35 passing with just 183 yards. After an offseason of coordinator changes and a narrative that they’ll be more tempo and flow, Ohio State’s offense looked like the same broken unit it did against Michigan and Clemson in its final two games of last season. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and Ohio State’s offense is screeching like a broken record.
On a night when so much emotion rippled through the stadium, the best way to describe the Ohio State offense may be how it felt compared to Oklahoma’s. Riley toyed with Schiano, as OU’s fullback was its leading receiver (Dimitri Flowers’ 98 yards, seven catches, one TD) and Mayfield’s two other touchdown passes went to a true freshman (Trey Sermon) and a walk-on (Lee Morris). “He probably won’t be a walk-on much longer,” Riley joked.
Meyer, meanwhile, spent the night removing his headset and running his hands through his greying hair. His palms were pressed against his forehead searching for answers that never came. He walked off the field in a complete daze, a thousand-yard stare befitting of a night where Ohio State’s offense struggled to move an inch. “Yeah, it was awful,” Meyer said of the Buckeyes offense. He added: “We’re going to do what we do, and that’s go back to work as hard as we possibly can, starting somewhat tonight and tomorrow and figure this thing out.”
Mayfield is a noted collector of slights, scribbling down and using them for fuel and motivation. He noted in his postgame interview that all of the analysts on Gameday picked the Buckeyes, and 80 percent of the people polled also picked Ohio State. So when asked how that fueled him, Mayfield flashed that smile visible in Enid. “You know me,” he said, fighting a grin, “It doesn’t count at all.”
Mayfield immediately exited the podium to conceal his smirk, planting a walk-off quote as dramatically as the flag at mid-field.
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