Baker Mayfield has won the Heisman Trophy. No team has amassed more yards this season than Oklahoma. What makes the Sooners offense so great, and what will Georgia have to do to stop it ― or at least hold it enough in check to win the Rose Bowl.
We surveyed several key players who have faced Oklahoma’s offense, this season and last, for their thoughts.
Oklahoma had its “worst” offensive showing of the season against Texas, which held the Sooners to a season-low 29 points on Oct. 14 in the Red River Shootout. Oklahoma still won, 29-24, with Mayfield passing for 302 yards and 2 touchdowns. But he was also sacked twice and was intercepted, 1 of only 5 picks of Mayfield this season. Texas cornerback DeShon Elliott, a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, was asked how to deal with Mayfield.
Elliott: “Blitz. Get to him. Because if you can just get to him then you should be OK. Other than that you won’t be able to. If you let him sit back there and just pat that ball he’s going to make plays. … You’ve got to be able to keep Baker in the pocket and keep him from being able to extend the pocket. Because if he’s able to extend the pocket and extend plays he’s going to score touchdowns. You’ve got to make sure you do your job and don’t bust coverages.”
Oklahoma is the only team in the country with at least 7,000 total yards ― and has 7,583, in fact. The Sooners average 583.3 yards per game. Oklahoma also averages 8.44 yards per play, which is nearly a full yard per play than anybody else. (UCF is second at 7.6. Georgia comes in 13th at 6.75.)
There’s a misconception that Oklahoma just passes all the time. Actually it has run more than it has passed this season, often because it’s ahead in so many games. But in a close game against Texas the Sooners ran 39 times, 32 of those carries by the tailbacks, who averaged 4.8 yards per carry.
Elliott: “To win games you’ve got to stop the run. So first of all you’ve got to stop Rodney [Anderson] and you’ve got to stop the freshman, No. 4 [Trey Sermon]. Other than that you should be good.”
Isn’t that easier said than done?
Elliott: “Oh yeah it’s easier said than done. We had a couple times in our game we thought we had [Mayfield]. Then he got out there and made a play. He’s just a great player; he’s an athlete. He’s going to make some plays. So you’ve got to do your job and just don’t give up big plays.”
Houston beat Oklahoma and Mayfield in the 2016 season opener, 33-23. That was a game the Sooners relied too much on Mayfield, who passed it 34 times and had half of the team’s 26 runs. Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver, the winner of the 2017 Outland Trophy, recalled that game.
Oliver: “Versus us he didn’t try to run that much, he tried to pass a lot, but that didn’t work out for them. [Laughs.]”
So what about a pure pocket situation, Mayfield against the secondary? Oliver thinks you can get to him.
Oliver: “Besides the big tackle they’ve got [Orlando Brown] I don’t think his interior linemen are any good. Well I don’t think they’re not any good, but I don’t think they’re SEC linemen. That’s just my opinion.”
Oklahoma has made changes on its line since that Houston game. Still …
Oliver: “Them boys out of the SEC, them some dawgs. Especially them boys on the D-line. Them boys better be ready. Last year the [Oklahoma] center wasn’t any good. I don’t know if he got any better because I haven’t watched them, but the interior three, if they’re solid, they’re going to be all right.”
When Georgia won at Notre Dame earlier this season, it held dual-threat quarterback Brandon Wimbush in check, containing him from getting outside. Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson was asked what Georgia did to accomplish that.
Nelson: “I would say their athleticism with the linebackers being able to play the read was a little bit of a difference maker. And then they had a couple plays where we slid the protection the wrong way. So I’d say that sort of helped in that case.”
Oklahoma won at Ohio State earlier this season, 31-16, flipping the result of the matchup from the previous year. Ohio State center Billy Price, watching Oklahoma’s offense from the sideline both years, warned that opponents need to be prepared.
Price: “And I know that firsthand, being on the winning end of it last year in a pretty strong dominant effort, and then having the tables tipped on us, at home and watching 6 [Mayfield] dance around, and watching [All-America tight end] Mark Andrews and those guys make plays in the secondary against our guys. Because we’ve got some pretty talented talented guys. We’ve got a front four, Big Ten defensive lineman of the year. A Butkus Award winner. Again, if you can slow down those guys, then you’ve got a chance.”
Oklahoma’s offensive line is anchored by Brown at tackle and, even with Oliver’s previously stated skepticism, has plenty of girth, as Texas cornerback Elliott pointed out.
Eliott: “They have a great tackle and a really great guard. They all play at a championship level. They’re huge. And once they get their hands on you, then you’re pretty much done. So you’ve got to make sure they keep their hands off you.”
Elliott also shakes his head at skeptics who say Big 12 offenses get shut down once they face good defenses from other conferences.
Elliott: “I don’t agree with that at all. Because we preach physicality. In my opinion we were the most physical team in the Big 12 and I felt at that point in time we could play with pretty much almost any team in the country. Some teams, like of course Alabama. But for the most part we could play in any other conference and be OK.”
Defenses in the Big 12 are hurt because of the offenses they play?
Elliott: “Yeah, because the type of offenses we play they’re going to spread the field. Quick. Fast, get it to whoever’s open. Of course it’s harder, but that’s the league we play in.”
Oliver, the Houston star, may doubt the interior linemen, but he doesn’t doubt Mayfield.
Oliver: “He’s going to bring it every game. Don’t think you’re going to get an off day from Baker, as I could see. He’s a very tough competitor. And you’ve got to keep him contained and you’ve got to hit him and you’ve got to hit him early and you’ve got to hit him often just to keep him contained. Because if you don’t he can turn it on like that and be super explosive.”
That said …
Oliver: “But if you do a good job of containing and trying to hit him and get at him, you’ll be all right.”