NORMAN, Okla. – This is what Oklahoma fans expected to see. Quarterback Baker Mayfield spreading the wealth around. Running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon hitting the holes, finding the end zone. This is the offensive juggernaut everybody expected.
Perhaps a week too late for some fans, but the Sooners offense found their groove early and often en route to a 59-17 thumping of visiting ULM in the home opener for the Sooners in the newly renovated stadium.
The criticism was clear of Mayfield and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley following OU’s surprising 33-23 defeat against Houston. Mayfield was either going to have to trust his receivers more, or it was going to be a long season ahead for the Sooners.
Heading into this type of game, it’s one an OU fan you wanted to be over with by halftime. Twenty-one first downs. Forty-four plays for 459 yards (244 passing, 215 rushing), punctuated by 42 points. It was indeed over after the first 30 minutes for the 87,037 in attendance, the largest gathering for any sporting event in the history of the state.
The difference this time around was Mayfield showing that trust in his playmakers and letting them do exactly what they’re supposed to do.
The receivers, Mayfield, they heard the critics. They haven’t silenced them for good, but they did what they’re supposed to on this evening.
“It drove us a lot,” senior Jarvis Baxter said about the doubters after last week. “That means we weren’t working too hard. With us coming out this evening and working harder and getting open, it allowed to make a lot of plays. We did a much better job.”
Mayfield, for the first time since being with the Sooners, did not have a single rush attempt. No scramble yards. No sacks. He was clean and effective in going 14 of 20 for 244 yards with three touchdowns before letting freshman Austin Kendall play the entire second half.
“I think it was him being a little more settled in, just trusting the system and playing within the system,” said Riley about Mayfield. “Trusting these other guys to make the plays.
“He just did a good job of letting it go and not overlooking the one-on-one matchups too much. Just taking the ball where it needs to go. He’s played enough ball that 99 percent of the time, he knows here it’s supposed to go.”
Kendall and Mayfield ended up completing passes to 12 receivers with true freshman Mykel Jones actually leading the way with six catches for 48 yards. Nick Basquine, Dimitri Flowers and Mark Andrews hauled in the scores from Mayfield. Kendall got on the board with two second-half touchdowns to A.D. Miller and Jeffery Mead.
Nobody is penciling the Sooners back in the college football playoff race at this point, but this was the type of night that was pivotal as OU welcomes fourth-ranked Ohio State to Owen Field next weekend.
Improvement had to be shown, and the Sooners took that oh so necessary first step in turning the page.
“I’m just happy with how our guys responded,” Riley said. “We all were incredibly disappointed with our performance, in particular the second half last week. You’ve got to make jumps if you are going to be where you want to be at the end of the season and have a chance to play in some really meaningful games.”
Kendall was 12-of-15 passing for 108 yards, while Joe Mixon had 117 yards on 14 carries as the Sooners tallied 640 total yards of offense. Samaje Perine notched his first two touchdowns of the season.
The bounce back is done. OU cleaned up its mess from Houston. We’ll see just how far the Sooners have come with the Buckeyes arrival next week as OU’s chance to once again at an attempt to make an important national impression.