NORMAN, Okla. – There was plenty of blame to pass around for Oklahoma on Saturday night. Head coach Bob Stoops wanted it. Quarterback Baker Mayfield tried to take it back. Running back Samaje Perine said it was all the players.
Doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things who is right, maybe they all are. The fact is the Sooners have to take a hard look in the mirror following a 45-24 shellacking by visiting Ohio State in front of the largest crowd ever at Owen Field.
It was billed as a battle of two titans in college football. But it’s obvious for the 2016 season one is trending up and one is trending down and hoping not to spiral downward so far into the point of no return.
Dreams of a return trip to the college football playoff are done. Nobody thought by September 17, you could already cross out OU in the championship chase.
You can. You have. No other way around it.
“It goes to show in big games like that I haven’t played well,” Mayfield said. “I let the team down. Coach Stoops can beat around the bush, but I let this team down by this performance. I have to lead better.”
The lesson was supposed to have been learned two weeks ago. In a 33-23 loss to Houston, Mayfield was criticized for trying to play hero ball, trying to do too much instead of trusting the system.
It sounds harsh to say, but it’s tough to debate that Saturday evening was arguably the worst Mayfield has performed for the Sooners in the two seasons he has been eligible in Norman.
He completed 17 of 32 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns. But there were two interceptions, there was his unwillingness to throw the ball away and live to see another day. There were the untimely sacks.
This isn’t the Mayfield that OU fans fell in love with in 2015. This is a Mayfield who knows he has to figure it out.
“I have to refer back to the basics,” Mayfield said. “Me and Coach Riley talk about it all the time. Sometimes it’s harder having been in the situation before and doing the little things right again and trying to look past it and saying I’ve been here before and don’t have to worry about it.
“That’s absolutely wrong. That’s how you get beat. That’s how you don’t play to your full potential. It’s hard having played a lot of football and having to refer back to the basics but right now I have to start from square one.”
As do the Sooners. Make no mistake about it. This was the ideal scenario for OU. A mega-showdown vs. the Buckeyes. More than 40 four-star prospects on hand. A chance to make an impression on the field and let it trickle down on the recruiting trail.
What you saw instead were 2018 recruits who were invited by OU tweeting about the Buckeyes after they took a 35-17 lead at halftime. The tweets were later deleted, but the message was sent loud and clear and not the one the Sooners had hoped to send.
Running back Joe Mixon by far was the bright spot for the Sooners, rushing for 78 yards with 225 total yards of offense that included a 97-yard kickoff return for touchdown.
Some could match his energy. Some could match his ability. But nobody, clad in the crimson and cream, could match both. And it starts with the leadership. It starts with Stoops.
“It’s fair to say the leadership isn’t close to what it was a year ago, and that’s on me,” Stoops said. “I’m in front of the program. I’ve got to do a better job, and I’ve got to do a better job developing players to do that.”
Development needed to be done during the spring and summer. We’ll see what the Sooners can do to pick up the pieces during the bye week.