Of all the questions being asked about Oklahoma heading into the 2016 season, about 1 percent of those inquiries were about quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Made sense, right? After coming on last year as this brash, confident walk-on to the unquestioned team leader and Heisman Trophy candidate, there would be no reason to question Mayfield.
He’d be a year older. He’d have another year under Lincoln Riley’s system under his belt. He trimmed up in a major way to maximize his potential. He gained back that lost year of eligibility. He was back and ready to take OU fans on another ride.
Through three games, it hasn’t been the ride everybody hoped for. Mayfield has been puzzlingly inconsistent and OU sees itself on the outside looking in of not only the college football playoff hunt but also outside of the top 25 in the coaches poll.
A dream start to the season has been replaced by a 1-2 head-shaking beginning to 2016. You can never blame one guy, but you knew OU would have issues replacing defensive leaders. You knew it would be tough to find a second cornerback to go with Jordan Thomas. You knew there wasn’t a Sterling Shepard in the receiver group.
But you didn’t know Mayfield wasn’t going to be at his best each time out there. And on the biggest stage against Ohio State, you didn’t know he would have arguably his worst game as a Sooner.
"I do have all the confidence in the world in Baker,” head coach Bob Stoops said. “No one tries harder, cares more, all of that.
“That's the classic example of, we're rolling out that way, but the play broke down. Throw the ball out of bounds. You've got a great opportunity and you're still on the 3-yard line, and he takes a big loss. So at times, you have to take ownership.”
Mayfield known for pinpoint precision more than anything else in this offense was far from that. Completing 17 of 32 passes for 226 yards and two interceptions. That won’t cut it, especially against a team as talented as the Buckeyes.
So where has it all gone wrong? Mayfield spent all of last season learning the system. Riley guided Mayfield toward making the right reads, making the right calls and executing.
Bravado comes into play. Now in Year No. 2, you get the sense sometimes Mayfield believes he knows the system so well that he doesn’t have to adhere to it.
He’s so confident in his own abilities that he’s willing to push to the side what’s being asked of him and opts to do what he thinks he can do.
Call it hero ball, doing too much, use your own vernacular. But it’s something that Mayfield addressed immediately after the game and knows must stop.
“I think it’s been more about trying to do too much,” Mayfield said. “Where I have to refer back to the basics. 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 to the basics but right now I have to start from square one.”
Square one was Tuesday as OU returned to practice. Mayfield said square one and the basics meant focusing on the quick-game, making sure he got the ball out of his hands and into the playmakers’.
That last part could tell you what you need to know about Mayfield and pressing to do too much. In the first game against Houston, his numbers look dang good.
You could live with completing 24 of 33 passes for 323 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. But you watch the tape again and see that it wasn’t perfect and goes beyond the lost fumble.
When Mayfield is at his best, he doesn’t need to be Houdini. Doesn’t need to scramble around forever. It doesn’t hurt at times, but it’s not necessary.
When it becomes necessary in his head, that’s when things start to go off kilter. Against Houston, Mayfield had 13 rushing attempts. Against Ohio State, he had eight.
“Everybody wants to do their very best, and he does,” Stoops said. “I know Coach Riley is an excellent quarterback coach. Those guys will work through it. Baker, he'll shine for us as we go through the year.
“I really believe that. The guy works too hard not to. Like everybody, he'll learn from these games, and learn from them and not press too much.”
Mayfield can learn from last year because he said after the Texas loss in 2015, OU focused on the small things. The Sooners can execute the hard things but now? It’s about the little things.
“If we just go out and execute the small things, we should be fine,” Mayfield said. “Last year when we settled in, we didn’t do a lot of complicated stuff. We just went back to the basics and executed well.”