When Lincoln Riley accepted the offensive coordinator position at Oklahoma, Sooner fans worried that he would turn Oklahoma into a soft Air Raid team, and get away from their physical Big 12 running game that fans were used to.
What most people didn’t know about Riley — a disciple of Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense — is that he actually passes to set up the run, and his offenses have always ran with great success. Basically, Riley wants to spread the defense out to get defenders out of the box, hit you with screens and quick passes, then take intermediate to deep shots. Once the defense is focused on the pass and the offense has numbers in the box, they’ll slash you on the ground with Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon — two of the most talented running backs in the nation. Last season, Oklahoma ran the ball on 57-percent of their 1,013 plays and so far through two games, they’ve had a nice 51:49, run:pass balance.
Yes, their running game is great and both backs have the ability to move the chains or take one to the house almost at will, but the offense runs through their signal caller, Baker Mayfield.
Mayfield stands at 6’1", 212 lbs and actually plays much bigger whether he is in-or-out of the pocket. He started his career with Texas Tech in 2013 — starting as a walk-on true freshman — under Kliff Kingsbury, running the Air Raid. After being named the Big 12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year, he decided to leave Texas Tech and transfer to Oklahoma. After Mayfield sat out in 2014, Lincoln Riley arrived at Oklahoma in 2015, and it was a match made in Air Raid heaven.
Mayfield put up crazy numbers in his first season in Norman, throwing for 3,700 yards and 36 touchdowns, to only 7 interceptions. He also added 405 yards and 7 touchdowns on the ground, en-route to being named the Sporting News Player of the Year and AP Second Team All-American.
Through the first two games, Mayfield has been even better than he was in 2015. He’s completed 71.7-percent of his passes, compared to 68.1-percent of his passes the year prior. He’s also yet to throw an interception through his first 53 pass attempts.
Unfortunately for Mayfield and the Sooners, they got knocked in off Week 1 against Tom Herman’s Houston Cougars. However, the quarterback played exceptionally and he displayed his accuracy, toughness and unwillingness to quit amidst adversity.
Here’s how Mayfield’s day looked against Houston:
|Designed runs||Dropbacks||Completions||Incompletions||Total Touchdowns||Scrambles||Overthrows||Throwaway|
|Pressured||Sacked||Hit||Pass break-up||Batted at LOS||Drops||Turnovers||Defensive PI|
- Compared to J.T. Barrett’s weekly charts, this one looks much different. Mayfield dropped back 40 times; which resulted in 24 completions, seven incompletions, seven scrambles, and two sacks.
- His offensive line protected him well, allowing the majority of the five pressures late in the game, when the defense had a full pass rush on, due to the Sooners being down.
- What stands out with Mayfield is his accuracy at all passing levels. He began the game 11-for-11 passing and he made some tough throws.
- Other than his accuracy, the most impressive thing about Mayfield is his pocket awareness and his movement in the pocket. He almost looks Johnny Manziel-esque in the pocket at times, and uses his athleticism to get out of trouble — while keeping his eyes downfield. He’s deceptively shifty and can make defenders miss behind the line of scrimmage or when he tucks and scrambles.
- He’s athletic, the team has two stud running backs and he makes good decisions, but they do not run as much read option as one would expect. When they do run the read option or option, the quarterback tends to predetermine his read and does not look to pitch on the option.
- When looking at his weapons, three players stuck out against Houston: WR No. 11 Dede Westbrook and the two running backs, Mixon and Perine. Westbrook is a quick slot receiver who is the Air Raid prototype. He’ll line-up in the slot and work the field horizontally in the screen game and makes plays in space. Against Houston, Westbrook was the only receiver targeted in the screen game -- Mixon caught one screen lined up out wide. Both Perine and Mixon have reliable hands and will catch a bunch of swing passes and be used as check-downs out of the backfield. No. 81 Mark Andrews showed off his wheels on a deep crossing pattern that went for a touchdown, but he was not targeted again. In fact, the 6’5", 250 lb receiver has 10 career touchdown receptions on only 23 career receptions.
Above, Mayfield hits his receiver on a 8-yard out to move the chains on 2nd-&-6. This throw shows off his arm strength, as he threw the ball from 14-yards from the opposite hash and on a line. Not many college quarterbacks have the arm strength to make that throw.
This sequence shows his ability to avoid the rush, keep the play alive and have the poise keep his eyes downfield. This is a terrific play by Mayfield to extend the play and make the throw behind the sticks.
Here, Mayfield quickly recognizes the mismatch in his favor — a linebacker covering Joe Mixon in man coverage out of the backfield. Mixon runs a go-route and Mayfield floats the ball over the running back’s shoulder, in-stride for a big gain.
This play shows Mayfield’s athleticism and mobility. After a high snap, the quarterback makes multiple defenders miss and turns what could have been a horrible play, into a positive. He doesn’t possess blazing speed or quickness, but he’s similar athletically to Barrett and finds a way to get it done with his legs.
For the Ohio State defense to be successful on Saturday, it will take a complete team effort.
As seen above, Mayfield has the ability to extend plays and make defenders miss in the backfield. It will be key for the defensive line to not let up when they get the chance to make a play on the quarterback, but also remember to keep contain. He’s the type of player who excels in chaos and looks to make plays as he’s running around.
The linebackers have their hands full with Perine and Mixon. Not only do they run the ball effectively, but they are both targeted often in the passing game. Chris Worley will certainly be tested with Westbrook, who makes a ton of plays from the slot and in the screen game. I expect Greg Schiano/ Luke Fickell to dial up press coverage in the slot, to throw off Mayfield and Westbrook’s timing.
If the defensive line can get a good pass rush and the linebackers limit Perine and Mixon, the defensive backfield should perform well. Outside of Westbrook, there isn’t a second target on the perimeter who is a true playmaker or who possesses the ability to take over the game. With Malik Hooker patrolling from his free safety position, they shouldn’t get beat deep by any of those receivers.
The Buckeye defense has a clear advantage on the perimeter, but this will be the biggest test of the entire season for the front-seven.