NORMAN, Okla. — Back in the team meeting room they call the Red Room, underneath Oklahoma’s Memorial Stadium, quarterback Baker Mayfield on Thursday met with the local press for the first time since accepting the Heisman Trophy in New York on Saturday. Asked who was the most intriguing person he met during his whirlwind postseason award tour, Mayfield did not hesitate.
“Herschel Walker,” the Sooners’ superstar said. Then he gushed.
“He looks like he could still play right now,” Mayfield said of Georgia’s greatest tailback of all time. “That’s just impressive. You meet so many special guys, but a guy like that is like a once-in-a-century type of athlete. It was pretty neat.”
Reminded that Walker played for the team his Sooners are about to meet in the semifinals of the College Football Playoffs, Mayfield laughed.
“That’s OK,” he said. “It’s Herschel Walker. I don’t have to play him, so it’s all right.”
That exchange offered a nice glimpse into the persona of Oklahoma’s record-setting quarterback. The dude knows how to work a room and is quite comfortable at a lectern. And he knows how to butter-up an opponent.
Mayfield nsists he wasn’t just trying to endear himself to the Bulldog Nation by offering effusive praise about their greatest player of all time. But one started to wonder when he began to gush about the Georgia defense he’ll face when No. 2 Oklahoma faces No. 3 Bulldogs in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.
Mayfield was asked if the Sooners’ had faced a comparable defense to Georgia’s this season
“They’re the best defense; you can’t compare them to anybody,” he said. “They’re in a league of their own and that’s the reason they’re in the playoffs. They follow behind that defense. You can’t compare them to other people because they’re so talented and they play so well together. To say they’re like anybody else would be downplaying how good they are.”
And so it went. If there is going to be any trash-talking in the first-ever meeting between these two powerhouse programs, it wasn’t coming out of the Red Room on Thursday.
Led by Mayfield, the Sooners come into the Rose Bowl No. 1 in the nation in total offense at 583.3 yards per game and No. 3 in passing at 367.4. Georgia will counter with the No. 2-rated passing defense (158.3 ypg), tied for third against the score (13.2 ppg) and fourth in total defense (270.9 ypg).
Something’s got to give. But that’s what makes it one of the most exciting matchups of the postseason.
It’s especially exciting for Oklahoma’s Orlando Brown. The Sooners’ starting left tackle happens to hail from Duluth, where he attended Peachtree Ridge High School.
“A lot of those guys in high school tore me up,” said Brown, a consensus All-American as a redshirt junior. “I’m not the same player I was then, so I’m just ready. … I always play with a chip on my shoulder but I’m excited about that. These are guys I’ve known for a long time.”
Asked what Georgia players specifically “tore him up” in high school, Brown mentioned Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy. The two seniors start at outside linebacker for the Bulldogs and definitely will get matched up against Brown on occasion if not constantly.
“Obviously I played against 7 in high school, Carter,” Brown said. “I think I saw Bellamy at one point at a camp. It’s going to be competitive. They’re great. They play a lot of good ball. Very instinctual, very well-coached. You can tell they make a lot of scheme-related plays and a lot that are not scheme-related. They’re in the playoffs for a reason.”
Brown and running back Trey Sermon are the only Sooners who hail from Georgia. Sermon, a freshman from Marietta’s Sprayberry High, rushed for 710 yards and two touchdowns while playing in all 13 games as Rodney Anderson’s backup. Sermon as named to the Big 12’s all-freshman team.
Like Georgia, Oklahoma does not allow freshmen to be interviewed.
The Sooners certainly don’t need many other voices with Mayfield front and center. The fifth-year senior from Austin, Texas, is as comfortable before cameras and microphones as he is behind that big offensive line that allowed him to throw for 4,340 yards and 41 touchdowns with just 5 interceptions this past season.
It’s understandable considering he and Herschel Walker are the only players to have been invited to three consecutive Heisman Trophy Award ceremonies. The third time was the charm for both.
Asked what was the best advice he got from his fellow award winners, Mayfield said it was that the national championship remains the better prize.
“It was kind of common theme for the guys who were able to win it and play for a national championship,” Mayfield said. “I got the same advice from all of them: This is a special deal but if you can do anything you need to win the big one at the end. I talked to Chris Weinke about that and he’s a guy who lost to OU. So he was speaking from the heart.”
So was Mayfield, he’d have you believe.