NORMAN, Okla. – Throughout the first half of the Oklahoma season, it felt like it was quarterback Baker Mayfield, at times, simply putting the Sooners on his back to carry them to victory.
The comeback at Tennessee. The single-game total yardage record vs. Tulsa. The five touchdowns in the first half against Kansas State.
This has been Mayfield’s team. But going against his former squad, Texas Tech, it was the running game that carried the day in a 63-27 victory against the Red Raiders on Saturday evening at Owen Field.
The storyline coming into the day was Mayfield and the emotion he would be going through taking on his former team. The storyline walking out was about how Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon made sure there was no drama in Norman.
“It makes my job easy,” Mayfield said. “That means I can check into running play whenever we need. I could care less about my stats. If we get that going and get victories and score 60 points a game, I’m happy.”
It’s hard to read Perine. He’s a man of few words, few expressions. The only thing that has highlighted his season has been his selflessness.
It couldn’t have been easy to make a transition from a strong running attack offense into an Air Raid style of offense. Carries that used to see Perine running straight downhill now have him going side-to-side sometimes.
Against the Red Raiders (5-3, 2-3), it was back to last year. It was back to ground-and-pound. It was back to being the #PRhino. Perine had 23 carries for 201 yards and four touchdowns.
That desire, that determination was never more on display than on his first touchdown of the game to give OU (6-1, 3-1) a 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter where Perine simply refused to be denied on a 3-yard score.
“I just glanced at the end zone,” Perine said. “I had a couple of guys on me and told myself I wasn’t going to go down at the 1-yard line. I gave a little extra effort and got in the end zone.”
But it wasn’t just Perine. Redshirt freshman Joe Mixon, who has been such a dynamic presence in the OU passing attack, finally got it rolling on the ground as well.
He started the scoring barrage on an 11-yard score and finished the day with a career-high 154 yards on 16 carries with two touchdowns.
Add it all up, and the Sooners tallied 405 yards on 57 attempts, averaging a whopping 7.1 yards per carry. Tech’s run defense was known to be suspect coming in, and the Sooners took full advantage of the situation.
A situation that finally presented itself in the running game. The first half of the season was marred with inconsistency in the ground game. Saturday wasn’t that day, but it also doesn’t mean the Sooners have found their secret formula.
“I had backs, who at times, have had to take a backseat to the other guys just because that’s the way it’s worked out in some of these games,” offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. “And then the flip side of it, you’ve got a guy like Sterling Shepard down there that’s blocking his tail off every play, that’s bringing a ton of emotion on the sideline that doesn’t care how many balls he catches as long as we win.
“I think they’re starting to understand the selflessness. It may look one way one week or one way the next week. I don’t care how much we do it. The coaches don’t care. I think our kids are starting to really believe in it.”
With the running game clicking on all cylinders, Mayfield was able to settle down from a first half interception and a shaky start. He finished 15 of 22 for 212 yards with both of his touchdown passes coming in the second half.
Mayfield said all the right things during the week, and he did his best to approach this like any other game. But it wasn’t, and it definitely wasn’t for his teammates.
The game in the books, the win in hand, asked if OU was trying to win this one for Mayfield, center Ty Darlington summed up succinctly.
“Absolutely,” he said.