Baker Mayfield is the game-changer, but he will need help in Playoff

NORMAN, OK - NOVEMBER 25: Quarterback Baker Mayfield
NORMAN, OK - NOVEMBER 25: Quarterback Baker Mayfield /

Baker Mayfield will be the best player on the field at the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day, when No. 2 Oklahoma meets No. 3 Georgia in the College Football Playoff. You would expect that of the Heisman Trophy winner.

The Sooner quarterback has won 34 times and lost just five times in his three seasons in an Oklahoma uniform, but as good and experienced as he is, he won’t be able to beat Georgia all  by himself. The only way the Sooners are going to be able to get by the SEC champions is through a total team effort, and it all starts on the offensive end.

What has made the Oklahoma Air Raid offense so lethal all season long is its balanced attack and the multiple offensive weapons the Sooners can throw at you. They are three and four-deep at the running back position, and when the Sooners are able to move the ball successfully on the ground, it opens up the field for downfield passes and getting speedy receivers in space. And OU has a bevy of talented receivers and the most accurate passer in college football with Mayfield at the controls.

Oklahoma has run the ball 397 times this season and put it in the air 501 times. Three different running back have rushed for over 599 yards each, with redshirt sophomore Rodney Anderson getting the bulk of the carries and delivering close to 1,000 yards rushing, followed by freshman slasher Trey Sermon with 742 yards on the ground.

When they aren’t pounding away on the ground, Mayfield likes to find 6-foot, 5-inch Mark Andrews in downfield mismatches or target speedy receivers CeeDee Lamb, Marquise Brown and Jeff Badet on slants to get them in space or deep throws to take advantage of their blazing straight-line speed.

The bottom line is that while Mayfield is the trigger man, it is all the weapons he has around him that has made the OU offense virtually unstoppable this season. The Sooners lead the nation in at least 10 different offensive categories, including total offense (583.3 yards per game), yards per play (8.4), percentage of possession ending in touchdowns (47.2), plays of 20-plus yards (108) and plays of 40-plus yards (34).

And let’s not forget the big uglies upfront in the trenches. The OU offensive line, anchored by American tackle Orlando Brown, is one of the best in the nation. Without the key blocking of the O-line on running plays and the protection they provide Mayfield on passing plays, Mayfield would be constantly running for his life disrupting offensive continuity and pass routes, and the run game would be stopped in its tracks. Everything the Sooners are able to do offensively starts with the play of the offensive line.

Mayfield can’t just count on the offense, though, to carry all the load. He is going to have to help from the defense. The Sooner defensive unit, headed by senior Ogbonnia “Obo” Okoronkwo, Emmanuel Beal and Steven Parker, ranks 57th nationally and is the only defense among the three other teams in the Playoff that ranks outside of the top 10. This is why a number of people have downgraded the Sooners chances of going far in this year’s Playoff.

But Mayfield, for one, is counting on the Oklahoma defense to get stops and give the OU offense as many possessions as possible. One thing we’ve learned over and over this season is that the more chances you give Mayfield and Company, the better your chances of outlasting and outscoring your opponent. None of the teams in the Playoff want to get into a scoring shootout with the Sooners.

According to the OU athletic department, in the last four games, the Sooners lead the Big 12 not only in yards allowed (226.0), passing touchdowns (3) allowed and scoring defense (17.8 points allowed).

Special teams will also need to play a role if Oklahoma is to win against Georgia and move on to the championship game. The Sooners have been exceptional in special teams play this season, largely due to the big leg of junior Austin Seibert, who handles all of the kicking duties for the Sooners (punting, placekicking and kickoffs).

Seibert has made 15 of his 18 field-goal tries and leads the nation with 75 consecutive made extra points this season. He had made 12 straight field-goal attempts before missing a 43-yard attempt against TCU in the Big 12 Championship.

Perhaps even more impressive and of high importance given the quality of the teams in the College Football Playoff is Seibert’s 76.7-percent rate in kickoff touchbacks (79 of 103), which ranks fifth nationally.

No team is going to win a shootout with the Sooners, but for the Oklahoma offense to be at high efficiency and be able to put the points on the scoreboard necessary to pull out at least one if not two Playoff victories, it’s going to take the full support cast, all pulling in the same direction and playing smart, error-free football.

If the Sooners are able to play like they did much earlier in the season at Ohio State, they should end up in a very good place. It is the holiday season, but in this case it is better to receive than be on the giving end of the outcome.