For Baker Mayfield, Texas Tech Game of No Special Significance

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Oklahoma hosts Texas Tech this Saturday on a homecoming weekend in Norman. He may not admit it, but for Sooner quarterback Baker Mayfield, this game will be more than the average homecoming affair.

Texas Tech was where Mayfield began his college career, and as the Red Raiders’ starting quarterback to begin the 2013 season, he was thought of as Tech’s future at the position. He started the first five games that season for the Red Raiders as a walk-on, leading his team to victories in each, and Texas Tech was 7-0 when the Red Raiders came to OU around this time in the 2013 season.

Unfortunately – or perhaps it was good fortune – Mayfield did not play the last time the Red Raiders played at Oklahoma. He had suffered a leg injury at Kansas in his fifth start of the season. Another freshman, Davis Webb, was the starter at quarterback when Tech visited Norman in the 2013 season. With Blake Bell at quarterback for the Sooners, OU outlasted the Red Raiders that day by a score of 38-30 and handed Tech its first loss of the season.

Nov 15, 2014; Lubbock, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners defensive end Eric Striker (19) sacks Texas Tech Red Raiders quarterback Patrick Mahomes (5) in the first half at Jones AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Mayfield never really regained his starting role after his injury in his freshman season at Texas Tech. He did see action in a total of eight games that year (the first five games and the final three of the regular season), but after the 2013 season decided to leave the program, electing to transfer to Oklahoma and try to walk on to the Sooners’ program.

Despite the fact that he lives in Austin and ended up going to Texas Tech, where he walked on, Mayfield grew up rooting for Oklahoma. When he won the starting quarterback job at Texas Tech, he became the first true freshman walk-on quarterback to start a season-opening game for a team in a Power Five conference.

Mayfield was forced to sit out all of the 2014 season. He won the OU starting quarterback job for the 2015 season, beating out two-year starter Trevor Knight, and has now started six games in a Sooner uniform, almost as many as he did his freshman year at Texas Tech.

Nov 15, 2014; Lubbock, TX, USA; Texas Tech Red Raiders wide receiver Jakeem Grant (11) catches a touchdown pass in front of Oklahoma Sooners safety Steven Parker (11) in the first half at Jones AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

If anything, the experience Mayfield gained his freshman year at Tech has contributed to better numbers this season at Oklahoma, just his second collegiate season. His stats are up across the board. He is completing 67 percent of his passes this season (vs. 64 percent at Texas Tech), has 19 touchdown passes in six games (vs. 12 in eight games his freshman year in Lubbock) and three interceptions (vs. nine picks in 2013). His quarterback rating is also up this season (180.1 vs. 121.7).

While the media may be playing up all the intriguing connections between OU and Texas Tech since the last time the two teams played at Oklahoma, Mayfield refuses to reveal any ill will or make Saturday’s game any more than it is: “Just another game,” he chuckled in responding to a question by Jason Kersey, OU beat writer for the Oklahoma City Oklahoman.

Mayfield isn’t the only connection the Sooners have with Texas Tech these days. Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley and two other assistants on coach Bob Stoops’ OU staff were also assistants at Texas Tech under Mike Leach, himself a former assistant at Oklahoma, as offensive coordinator, in Stoops first season in Norman in 1999.

Interestingly, it was Leach who first introduced the Air Raid offense at Oklahoma, a totally new concept for a team that, at the time, had forever been known as a run-first team that rarely put the ball in the air.

Leach left Oklahoma for Texas Tech and his first head-coaching job after the 1999 season. He took his novel spread formation, Air Raid attack to Lubbock, and Texas Tech became the poster child for this high-octane, high-scoring style of offense.

Oct 17, 2015; Pullman, WA, USA; Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach looks on against the Oregon State Beavers during the second half at Martin Stadium. The Cougs won 52-31. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Along the way, Leach added former Red Raider quarterback Riley to his staff. Riley remained on Leach’s staff until 2009, when he left to become offensive coordinator at East Carolina. OU offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh joined the Texas Tech coaching staff in 2000 and was there through the 2006 season, when he left to be with Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, who was then the head coach at Arizona.

Dennis Simmons, the Sooners’ outside receivers coach, who is in his first season under Bob Stoops, also was part of the Leach coaching tree. Simmons was at Texas Tech from 2008-09, before joining Riley at East Carolina. The last three seasons, he was back with Leach, coaching receivers at Washington State.

All three Oklahoma assistant coaches, two of whom (Riley and Simmons) are in their first season at OU, became very familiar with the Air Raid offense while together at Texas Tech, which makes them a perfect complement to support this year’s Sooner team with the installation of the new offense. And with field general Baker Mayfield, who was indoctrinated into the offensive system as a quarterback at Texas Tech in the 2013 season, the Sooners have a quarterback who is well-skilled, comfortable and instinctively familiar at the controls of the new offense.

“Sure, we’ve all talked about those days when we were at Tech, but not in relation to this week,” Riley told the Oklahoman’s Kersey. “We’ve all played against our friends and coached against our friends. It won’t be that much different for us.”

What all this might mean come Saturday afternoon and Oklahoma’s homecoming date with Texas Tech is anyone’s guess. Both teams try to do the same things on offense, so it basically will come down to talent and execution. Passing will be a predominant feature in both offenses, but both blend in a good balance of run plays and have talented running backs who can hurt you on the ground and as pass receivers.

Current Texas Tech head coach, Kliff Kingsbury, played quarterback for the Red Raiders and started at quarterback for most of three seasons (2000-2002) in the early part of Bob Stoops coaching tenure at OU. During those years, Texas Tech was 0-3 against the Sooners. As the Red Raiders’ head coach the last two seasons, Tech is 0-2 vs. Stoops and the Sooners.