Last year, Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes was a relative unknown. He was kind of the reason why the Red Raiders had let then-freshman Baker Mayfield walk away from the program, but nobody really knew much about him as he prepared to face Oklahoma.
It was his first start and soon became the start of something special.
Before that game, Mahomes completed just 25 passes for 228 total yards. Since his coming-out performance against Oklahoma last year that featured 393 passing yards and four touchdowns, Mahomes has thrown for less than 300 yards only once.
He has seven games with at least three touchdowns.
Mahomes was a challenge back then. He’s an even bigger challenge now – a 6-foot-3 signal caller with a little bit of wiggle and NFL potential.
“There’s a lot he can do well,” Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “Obviously has ability to create plays with his feet and his arm. He gets the ball out quick. He has a quick release.”
Stopping Texas Tech’s passing attack, which ranks second in the nation in passing yards per game, starts and ends with slowing down Mahomes, who has run for six touchdowns this season. Mahomes isn’t a huge threat to run, but his ability to keep plays alive is one of his better features – just like Mayfield.
“You've gotta keep him in the pocket,” Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker said. “He's really good out the pocket. I think he's even better out of the pocket than he is in. He did a good job last year of completing his passes outside the pocket, so keeping him contained is gonna be big this week. So we have to focus on keeping him in the pocket.”
Mahomes wasn’t even guaranteed a starting spot entering the season. He has thrown for more than 400 yards three times this season, and he’s been over 350 all but one game.
He has completed less than 55 percent of his passes only once.
And Oklahoma started it all last year, when Texas Tech hung around with the Sooners before losing by 12 points after leading in the fourth quarter.
With Mahomes this year, the Sooners won’t be able to give him the same chance.
That is the main battle this weekend. Here’s a quick look at a few other key spots:
When Oklahoma has the ball. . .
Oklahoma running game vs. Texas Tech front
The Red Raiders have the second-worst run defense in the state of Texas – ahead of just SMU but behind UTSA, Texas State and North Texas. Oklahoma’s rushing attack hasn’t set the tempo yet. Now is a chance for that. It’s also an opportunity for Oklahoma offensive line to keep working before November, because Texas Tech has just seven sacks.
It’s not just the state of Texas, either.
Texas Tech has the worst run defense in the Big 12 Conference (263.9 yards per game) and allows 5.8 yards per carry. All this is coming against as schedule that features only two teams that are in the top-50 in the nation in rushing offense.
Dru Samia still has some growth before November. So does Jonathan Alvarez. There probably isn’t a man on the line that couldn’t use some confidence.
Baker Mayfield vs. the mind game
If there’s one thing that Mayfield has a problem with, it’s trying to do too much: Keeping plays alive with his legs, forcing passes (although not as much this year), trying to do too much. Now against Texas Tech, a coaching staff that he defiantly has had no contact with, there has to be a little more desire from Mayfield to make the Red Raiders pay.
He can’t try and do it on his own Saturday. This might be his brightest stage. If he tries to force plays by himself, like he did against Texas, Oklahoma could have issues. More than any other game, Mayfield has to be calm. He has to be composed.
Mayfield has to literally believe that this is just another game and fight human nature. It can’t be a revenge game for him.
When Texas Tech has the ball. . .
Oklahoma pass rush vs. the Red Raiders’ offensive line
Texas Tech doesn’t have a miraculous offensive line, but it has only allowed seven sacks all season. That’s much more of a result of the Red Raiders’ passing attack.
Oklahoma had just two sacks in last year’s matchup in 52 pass attempts. Another two-sack performance this year would be a good number for the Sooners to reach. Texas Tech’s offense will wear down the secondary at some point Saturday. Having a strong pass rush to keep the clock in Mahomes’ head ticking would be nice.
Cornerbacks vs. balanced pass attack
This might be more of a one-on-one battle between Oklahoma nickel back Will Johnson and Texas Tech slot receiver Jakeem Grant.
The Red Raiders have 10 players with double-digit catches – all of them have scored – and 13 have at least six catches. But Grant has more than any other two players combined.
Shut down Grant and things can change in a hurry for Texas Tech. Johnson won’t be the only one trying to do that though. Expect Steven Parker to draw the match-up and maybe even Zack Sanchez or Jordan Thomas if things get out of control.