Baker Mayfield: The key to Oklahoma’s success?
MIAMI, Fla. – When looking at the Sooners’ success this season, one player stands out.
“He’s a special player for their team. You know, he does a great job because without him, they wouldn’t be in this position. It takes a special guy to lead a great team, and they’re pretty good, and they wouldn’t be here for no reason,” said Deshaun Watson, Clemson’s quarterback.
Baker Mayfield, OU’s quarterback who was forced to sit out last season after transferring from Texas Tech, has made a lasting impression on the Sooners and their opponents.
“The quarterback, he’s something serious, something that we’ve really got to take into consideration. He’s a great player. He has all the skill sets to dominate this game, and if we take him for granted, this game could get out of hand early, so we’ve definitely got to handle this quarterback,” said Kevin Dodd, Clemson defensive end.
Mayfield has stumped defenses in the Big 12 and now Clemson is trying to create a game plan to contain him.
“I watch a lot of film and watch him escape tackles and it’s amazing to watch because it’s not like he’s the biggest guy, but he’s crafty with his feet, he’s got good balance,” said D.J. Reader, Clemson defensive tackle. “He’s a competitor. That’s what we’ve seen from him on film. He really likes to compete, and he’s a leader, and his team feeds off his energy.”
According to players, Mayfield provides a spark to the offense that is contagious.
In fact, that enthusiasm has caused some concern among Sooner fans, wondering if he will get too hyped for a game like this.
Coach Bob Stoops says Mayfield understands the importance of big games and will not let his emotions run away with him.
However, it’s not the junior quarterback’s emotions that are worrying defenders.
This season, Mayfield has completed 243 out of 354 pass attempts with only five interceptions.
In all, he’s passed for 3,389 yards and 35 touchdowns, earning him an average of 282 yards per game.
“He does a great job of taking care of the ball, obviously, with only five picks. He’s very productive, and he’s a leader. He feeds off that energy. He’s not afraid to sometimes put his head down, maybe fight for those extra yards,” said Reader.
It’s that fight that has caused some health concerns this season.
Near the end of the regular season, Mayfield suffered a concussion after being targeted by a TCU linebacker.
“I think he’s got confidence to take some chances where another guy might just tuck it down and take the sack or try to throw it away at times. He takes more chances because he knows he can get out of it. He’s got a strong lower body. You can see he pulls out of some of those tackles, and he’s got a desire and a kind of fearlessness where he’s completely fearless in those moments,” said OU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley.
That elusiveness is what Clemson is trying to stop and Oklahoma hopes to exploit.
“He extends plays and you can’t cover guys forever,” said Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney. “There are plays where the defense had him, on the board it looked great. But that guy still has to tackle him.”
“Baker Mayfield brings a lot to the table. He’s probably one of the best quarterbacks we’ve faced all year,” said Ben Boulware, Clemson linebacker. “We have to keep an eye on him because he can do so many things with his feet, so we have a little more focus on him, just keeping an eye on him.”
It’s a lesson even his teammates have learned.
“When you see Bake, it’s not fun because you can’t tackle him, you can’t make those little diving tackles. You’ve got to try to tag him. So trying to tag Bake is almost impossible because he’s so quick, and his shiftiness, it’s like, ‘Man, come on, let me tag you so we can end this play,” said Charles Tapper.
Tapper says he knew Mayfield was going to be special when he led the scout team against the starters.
“We were trying our hardest to try to catch him, but he was still shaking us,” Tapper said.
Ultimately, Mayfield’s play has made both sides of the team better and more explosive.
“The great ones, the special ones make everyone better, and that’s what he does,” said Brent Venables, defensive coordinator for Clemson.
Either way, players from both sides say it will turn into an interesting matchup when they meet on New Year’s Eve.
“After plays, he’s getting in guys’ faces. He’s pulling down, running to the mouth. As a competitor like myself, you love seeing that. You love getting to play against that, so I’m looking forward to getting to play against him,” said Boulware .