Heartbeat of the Heartland: Baker Brings It In Bedlam

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With a prime-time showcase between its two highest-ranked teams – No. 8 TCU and No. 5 Oklahoma – on the docket for Saturday, the Big 12 shouldn’t be in a position of defending its honor and reputation. But, it’s the Big 12, everybody’s favorite punching bag.

Oklahoma’s 62-52 Bedlam victory over Oklahoma State drew derision and scorn from a number of national voices, including one who said it was Arena Football. Once again, the Big 12 is considered the NDL – No Defense League.

First-year Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley’s response: “That’s uneducated.”

Which is a civil way to say: “That’s stupid.”

Saturday in Stillwater, two teams with prolific senior quarterbacks (OU’s Baker Mayfield, OSU’s Mason Rudolph) matched throws and ran offenses with outstanding skill players. Rudolph finished with 448 yards passing and sophomore Justice Hill gained 228 yards rushing. Mayfield set a school record for passing yards as the Sooners finished with 785 yards in total offense against a defense that entered the game 16th in total defense.

Both defensive coordinators, men charged with limiting the kind of carnage that occurred, were left with no answers.

Oklahoma State’s Glenn Spencer: “I knew they were good, but I never would have expected that.”

Oklahoma’s Mike Stoops: “We weren’t good in any situation throughout the course of that game, but we were great when we needed it most.” He was referring to Oklahoma State’s next-to-last possession; trailing by three points late in the game, Rudolph overthrew an open receiver that could have put the Cowboys in the lead. OU eventually took over on downs.

Riley got the job when Bob Stoops retired because of his offensive game-planning and in-game play calling and during his Monday media conference he explained why offenses sometimes rule and took a page from his former boss’ playbook with a dig at the Southeastern Conference.

“When we sit here and play our conference every single week and we play great offenses every single week, we’ve seen what happens,” Riley said. “We’ve also have seen, again and going back to the bowl games last year, there’s one conference that gave up under 20 points a game, that was the Big 12.

“So people want to talk about all that, we didn’t have any problem moving the ball against SEC defenses, and on one of the best ones in the country last year in the bowl game.”

In the SEC, it just means more. In the Big 12, it just means more offense. Maybe the Alabama and Georgia defensive units (ranked No.2 and No. 4, respectively, in total defense) would lock up the Sooners’ offense. But we’ll get a more definitive sample size Saturday in Norman because TCU is No. 6 in total defense.

No, really.

The Frogs allow 13 points a game and lead the nation in rushing defense. Coach Gary Patterson was praised by both Riley and Mayfield for his defensive schemes. TCU won at Oklahoma State in September by bottling up what was then the nation’s No. 1 offense. The Sooners currently lead FBS in total offense.

Baker is cooking …

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield is this week’s Heisman Trophy favorite. While the other Heisman leaders this season had off weeks, Mayfield threw for a school-record 598 yards as the Sooners won a Bedlam matchup that lived up to the name.

In two victories in road games against top-15 opponents (Ohio State and Oklahoma State), Baker Mayfield has averaged 13.9 yards per attempt while totaling 984 yards passing, eight touchdowns and two interceptions.

Mayfield is 13-0 in true road games as OU’s quarterback and the Sooners have won their last 15 road games, the longest such streak in FBS. Mayfield has thrown a touchdown pass in 35 consecutive games (the Big 12 record is 36) and has at least two TD passes in 22 consecutive games.

The senior quarterback also leads FBS in yards per attempt (11.86) and passing efficiency (201.6). Both numbers are on pace to set single-season records. Baker Mayfield set the efficiency record last season.

… Texas is not

In Tom Herman’s first season, Texas has lost four games to top 10 teams by a total of 28 points – 21 if you discount TCU’s late, oh-by-the-way touchdown Saturday in Fort Worth. While the Longhorns have displayed marked defensive improvement, the offense has regressed.

In those four games against top 10 teams, UT has just seven offensive touchdowns and is averaging 335 yards per game in total offense. But the ground game is averaging just 64.5 yards per game and 1.9 per carry in those four games and the Texas QBs have been sacked 18 times.

Major reasons why Texas is sub-standard on offense start with an inexperienced and injury-ravaged offensive line that has contributed to an ineffective running game which has forced the passing game to carry the load. Quarterbacks Shane Buechele and Sam Ehlinger have each missed games with injuries.

Herman is starting to get heat about his offensive assistants. Coordinator Tim Beck has been second-guessed regarding play calling and personnel packages while offensive line coach Derek Warhime has been questioned about a lack of progress and improvement.

“I hired these guys knowing exactly what I was going to get,” Herman said Monday. “We’ve all got to get better. I have full confidence that we will. That’s my job, as the head coach, to coach the assistants.”

Asked if the staff would return next season, Herman responded with a “100 percent, yes” and noted how important coaching continuity is.

There’s no question that the Longhorns’ offense has been setback by unforeseen circumstances, but all teams deal with injuries. It’s also fair to question how Herman’s staff has tried to cope. With the offensive line limited in what it can do, play calling and schemes would appear to be one way to patch the holes. For instance, screen passes or passes to running backs on first down could keep the defense off balance.

Junior Jerrod Heard, who started his career at quarterback for switching to wide receiver, has had to bounce back and forth between position groups because Texas has just two scholarship quarterbacks. When he has played, he’s utilized like a running back in the wildcat formation. Defenses know a run is coming. Heard, one of the more dynamic players on the roster, has 16 carries for 56 yards with a long of nine. He’s certainly an above average passer but has just two attempts.

Chris Warren III, a 6-foot-4, 250-pound junior, has played sparingly. Herman notes he’s a good receiver and blocker in pass protection but said he “didn’t know” about Warren’s current role. It would seem his skill set would best fit as an H-back, especially when the offensive line has trouble moving air.

Herman has talked a good game since arriving on the Forty Acres. Coach Mensa is certainly more versed in football strategy and tactics than Your Veteran Scribe. But with a 4-5 record and Texas in the danger zone of missing a bowl for the third consecutive season, it’s time to quote Bill Parcells: “You are what your record says you are.”

Fun with numbers

The Big 12 has four quarterbacks with more than 3,000 yards passing. Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph leads the nation with 3,314 followed by Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield at 3,226. West Virginia’s Will Grier and Texas Tech’s Nic Shimonek are tied for fourth in the FBS with 3,068.

No other quarterback in a Power Five conference has broken the 3,000-yard plateau. Washington State’s Luke Falk has 2,913 yards but he has 46 more pass attempts than Shimonek, who leads the Big 12 in attempts.

Three and out

  • Texas Tech’s overtime loss at home to Kansas State assured the Red Raiders (4-5 overall, 1-5 in the Big 12) of a losing record in conference play. From 1986-2009, Texas Tech had two seasons with a losing league record. Kliff Kingsbury is in his fifth season in Lubbock and has yet to have a winning Big 12 season.
  • There’s a Nightmare On Elm Street/Friday The 13th combo nightmare scenario for the Big 12 that could pit Iowa State against West Virginia in the Big 12 championship game: Oklahoma beats TCU and Kansas, loses to WVU; TCU beats Texas Tech and Baylor; Iowa State and West Virginia each win their last three games.
  • The fifth-year seniors on Iowa State’s roster have during their careers beaten every Big 12 team except Oklahoma State, Baylor and Kansas State. Those are the last three games on the Cyclones’ schedule and if they go 3-0, they’ll earn a spot in the Big 12 championship game.

Said and done

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, as his Monday meeting with the media wrapped up, made a plea for the Sooners’ fans to show up and be loud Saturday night when TCU visits:

“I have one last thing. “Being at one of the last home games we’re going to have and it’s important to our College Football Playoff run, I’m going to call out our fans. It’s going to be an important one for us, a 7 o’clock game, a night game. … This crowd needs to be going. We give it our all week in and week out. I expect the fans to do the same for me on Saturday.”