BY JOHN ROHDE
Special to SoonerSports.com
Nov. 25, 2017
Oklahoma’s home finale on Saturday gave its fans a unique opportunity to say goodbye to maybe the program’s greatest quarterback ever while also getting a sneak peek at the future.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield’s final appearance at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium resulted in a 59-31 domination of West Virginia and kept alive the Sooners’ hopes for a College Football Playoff berth.
An already emotional setting intensified when Mayfield was removed from the starting lineup and stripped of his captaincy by head coach Lincoln Riley as punishment for making gestures and remarks during last week’s game at Kansas.
It was the first time in his three-year career at OU that Mayfield did not start. In his stead, redshirt sophomore Kyler Murray was given the reins for the opening drive.
On the first play from scrimmage, the speedy Murray gutted the middle of the Mountaineers’ defense and sprinted for a 66-yard gain to the WVU 4-yard line. The sellout crowd of 86,117 erupted and the Sooners literally were off and running — even with their beloved Heisman hopeful on the sideline.
Mayfield being Mayfield, he playfully gave Murray grief for getting caught by a defender. “He got caught from behind,” said a smiling Mayfield. “That’s something I would not have guessed.” (Murray, who is one of the fastest players on the roster, countered that the defender had the angle.)
Riley said he had predetermined Mayfield would be inserted on OU’s second possession, no matter what transpired on the opening drive. “I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to make a decision. I’m going to stick with it no matter what happens,'” Riley said. “That first series went a little bit quicker than I thought (70 yards in just two plays), but I wasn’t complaining.”
Murray said, “I knew going into the game I only had one drive, so I was going to try and make the most of it.”
Even with all the emotion of being disciplined and playing his final home game, Mayfield calmly completed 14-of-17 passes for 281 yards, three touchdowns and an astronomical quarterback rating of 279.4, strengthening his grip toward becoming OU’s sixth Heisman Trophy winner.
Mayfield has thrown a touchdown pass in a Big 12-record 38 consecutive games (every contest of his OU career) and also holds the Big 12 record with 25 consecutive games of at least two TD passes (77 TDs to 13 interceptions during the stretch). That is believed to be the second-longest streak in FBS history (Boise State’s Kellen Moore had a streak of 26 games in 2010 and 2011).
The Sooners scored touchdowns on all six possessions Mayfield played before he was pulled with 3:10 remaining in the third quarter and the Sooners leading 52-24.
Mayfield left to a thunderous ovation and was replaced by Murray, who finished with 80 yards rushing on just three carries (26.7-yard average) while also completing 2-of-2 passes for 52 yards and one touchdown. “Having the support of them, it’s pretty special to me knowing how loud they got,” Mayfield said of OU’s fans.
After completing an ESPN postgame interview on the field, Mayfield trotted along the front row of the entire stands, slapping hands with fans leaning over the wall. “I try to give back, as much as they support me,” Mayfield explained of his stadium exit. “It’s not equal, but I try to do as much as I can after everything they supported me through.”
The OU offense rolled up 646 total yards in just 54 plays, setting a school record of 12.0 yards per play. The Sooners’ balanced attack amassed 333 yards passing and 313 rushing, marking just the sixth time since 1996 they have surpassed 300 yards in both categories.
Mayfield and Murray took similar paths to OU. Both started some games as true freshmen — Mayfield at Texas Tech and Murray at Texas A&M — before transferring to OU, and both were required to sit the first season after switching schools.
“I can relate to Kyler, where he’s at right now mentally,” Mayfield said.
Including Mayfield, Saturday was the home finale for 18 seniors. “Our guys were very emotional coming into this game, for a lot of reasons,” Riley said.
Oklahoma is the only program West Virginia has not defeated since joining the Big 12 prior to the 2012 season. The Sooners are 6-0 against the Mountaineers during that span and have scored at least 44 points in five of those contests.
OU (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) will play in its ninth Big 12 Championship Game next Saturday, facing TCU (10-2, 7-2) at 11:30 a.m. at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Sooners are 7-1 in the Big 12 title game, which hasn’t been held since the 2010 season.