The non-conference season is in the rear-view mirror, and now it’s time for nine-straight games (no bye weeks) as Oklahoma trudges its way through the Big 12 season. Over the next three days, Sooners Illustrated’s Justin Hite will take a look at what we’ve learned about Oklahoma, what we still need to find out and who some of the top performers have been.
We’ll start with the offense.
Quarterback - A
It’s hard not to give Sooners’ quarterback Baker Mayfield the highest grade possible. He has been the best player on the offense in every game and thus far is second on the team in rushing yards and leads Oklahoma in rushing touchdowns.
He’s thrown for 1,062 yards and 10 touchdowns – that’s more than 350 yards and three touchdowns per game. He’s also completed 67.3 percent of his passes. Plus, he’s just a fun dude to be around.
Mayfield misses on his plus because of his two interceptions. You can’t have those.
Running backs - B
Rule No. 1: You can’t turn the ball over. Oklahoma already is only four fumbles lost shy of its total lost last season. But enough of the bad, there’s some good here too.
Samaje Perine’s breakout game against Tulsa certainly lessens what has been a solid-yet-slightly-mediocre start for Oklahoma’s backs. Joe Mixon has certainly proved dangerous, most specifically in the passing game where he has shown soft hands and a great ability in space. Mixon has almost twice as many receiving yards as he does rushing yards.
The duo has totaled 549 offensive yards through the first three games – more than Oklahoma’s top three receivers combined. Although, that’s to be expected.
Wide receivers - B+
The dropsies seem to have swept through the receiving corps early and are on their way out, because outside of about a half dozen drops, the unit has been pretty stellar.
Sterling Shepard (18 catches, 286 yards, 2 TDs) has been amazing, reviving himself in the new offense. Dede Westbrook (12, 175, 1) and Jarvis Baxter (7, 87, 1) have proved to be stellar off-season additions. Durron Neal (12, 175, 0) has improved greatly, and Mark Andrews (7, 137, 2) finally showed against Tulsa that he has the ability to be great.
It’s a night and day comparison to last year.
Offensive line - C+
The O-line wasn’t going to be as good as last year. With three new starters, it was going to face a few bumps in the road.
Thus far, it’s been just alright. The Tulsa game is probably a bit more of an apparition than a new trend. The Golden Hurricane was by far the worst front the Sooners have played – and maybe well play. Even with that game, Oklahoma still is averaging just 4.3 yards per carry.
There are some things that need to improve on the front. Time will work out those kinks.
Best player - It’s Mayfield at the top but Shepard isn’t far behind. In this offense, Mixon even carries a ton of importance.
Needs-improvement player - Really want to see more out of senior center Ty Darlington – and guard Nila Kasitati to some extent. The offensive line needs to develop and as leaders on the front, they’ve gotta push that along. From a purely skill perspective, Orlando Brown could go a long way to making everyone feel a lot better with a huge jump before the Red River Showdown/Rivalry/Shootout.
Biggest surprise - I don’t think anyone thought Mayfield would be this good, and I think there’s some surprise with how well Mixon has lived up to the hype. My money is on Baxter - walk-on to scholarship in three games. He’s been a welcomed addition and a solid possession receiver for Oklahoma.
What needs to change? - Plan and simple: The offensive line needs to be better and the start of games need to be smoother.
What needs to stay the same? - Nothing is perfect for Oklahoma on offense through the non-conference season, but when the passing game gets going, it’s nearly unstoppable – except by itself. Oklahoma punted just twice against Tulsa.