Though he had gained his reputation as a gunslinger, it was his ability to relax and stay calm that carried the day for him into winning a hotly contested quarterback battle for the Sooners against Trevor Knight and Cody Thomas.
It’s one thing to hear it said, and quite another to see it in action. There it was in the first half of his initial start, and Mayfield needed to prove what others had said.
He did that and then some, helping OU overcome early struggles to roll to a 41-3 victory against visiting Akron on Saturday night in OU’s season opener.
Mayfield finished the game 23 of 33 passing for 388 yards and three touchdowns and zero interceptions. In the process, he set the OU record for most passing yards by a quarterback in a season opener, topping the mark set by Sam Bradford in 2007.
“You don’t set records here every day,” said first-year offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. “I was proud he didn’t try to make too much happen.”
No doubt the allure was there to try to do too much. Midway through the second quarter and favored by 31 points, OU held a narrow 3-0 lead and couldn’t seem to get out of first gear.
Mayfield said after the game in the past, that’s exactly when he might have started to force the action, try to make something happen that wasn’t there.
There was none of that Saturday as he righted the ship. He said it showed his maturity as a player from his time as a freshman at Texas Tech to now a junior in Norman. And once the OU offense found its rhythm, it was smooth sailing the rest of the way.
“He’s our leader,” senior wide receiver Durron Neal said. “As he goes, we go. He was very key (toward team keeping its composure).
“He came to the sideline, gathered the guys together and said let’s get to doing what we do. We see it every day in practice. We see him make those throws, step up in the pocket, always looking to throw the ball down the field.”
How efficient was Mayfield? He was 12-of-14 passing for 225 yards and three touchdowns in a four-series portion of the game, with all resulting in OU scores.
Mayfield got the ball rolling with a 29-yard touchdown strike to Dede Westbrook on a play where he stepped up in the pocket and then Westbrook tipped it with one hand to himself and cruised to the end zone.
But the play that woke up Owen Field and maybe the Sooners, too, was a 76-yard touchdown pass to Joe Mixon on OU’s first play from scrimmage in the second half.
Mayfield was able to get time to throw because of a block by Samaje Perine that allowed Mixon to come free on a wheel route that Mayfield put right in his hands and let Mixon do the rest.
“I just had to trust the system,” Mayfield said. “It was just about getting our groove going again. I’m a distributor, and it’s exciting to watch. They’re all playmakers when you get the ball in their hands.”
Mayfield later found Jeffery Mead for an 11-yard strike for his final touchdown pass, while closing the show with a 2-yard touchdown run to end his night.
With the offense in sync, the game was decided early as OU’s defense stifled the Zips all night long. OU’s defense only allowed 226 total yards and a meager 3.2 yards per play for Akron.
Mayfield and Riley’s debut wasn’t all sunshine and roses. But the maturity and poise that had been talked about all camp was on full display and helped the Sooners begin 2015 on the right foot.