Oklahoma just beat Ohio State in the Horseshoe. Baker Mayfield planted a Sooners flag in the center of the O. It was a 31-16 game that honestly wasn’t even that close. Were it not for some bad breaks in plus territory to start the game, OU could have put up forty or fifty. Baker was, of course, astonishing, going twenty-seven for thirty-five to the tune of three hundred and eighty-six yards with three touchdowns. Against the best defense Oklahoma can expect to face in the regular season, he put out a passer rating of 198.1, topping the single-season NCAA record he set himself last season. There was a point midway through the third quarter where he simply stopped throwing incomplete passes for the rest of the game. He was creative, quick, tough, and accurate— in short, everything you expect Baker Mayfield to be. Combine that with a defense that forced J.T. Barrett to air the ball out more often than he’s comfortable doing while coming up with big stops in key moments, and you’ve got a winning formula, even against the Buckeyes in Ohio Stadium.
Yet as critical as veteran players like Baker Mayfield, Dimitri Flowers, Orlando Brown, Ogbo Okoronkwo, or Stephen Parker were on Saturday, it was a group of true freshmen, in the second game of their college careers, in front of the largest crowd in Oklahoma football history, playing the No. 2 ranked team in the country, that made the game a thrill to watch. After Mark Andrews went down in the second quarter, OU lined up an offensive personnel set that included three true freshmen: wide receiver Cedarian Lamb, running back Trey Sermon, and Y-slot/tight end Grant Calcaterra. With these personnel, they made their way to Ohio State’s red zone, and even though Austin Seibert missed the the field goal, I came away from that drive surprisingly reassured. OU was going to be fine, in this game, through this season, and for years to come.
So this column isn’t about Baker. It’s not about the flag in the O. It’s about four guys who, in the second college game of their careers, stepped onto the grandest stage imaginable and made a name for themselves.
Saying that CeeDee Lamb is “alright” is underselling him by quite a bit. At the start of the game, he looked like Oklahoma’s primary receiving target, with Baker throwing two passes his way on the first drive, including a fourth-down fade. CeeDee finished with five receptions and 61 yards receiving, and blew the top off the Ohio State defense to draw a pass interference penalty on a ball that, with a little more air under it, would have put him in the end zone for six. By all accounts we should expect Lamb to be a featured receiver for the next three years.
I was a little surprised that Trey Sermon got on the field as quickly as he did, but once he was there he showed the crowd why. He might lack the top speed and lateral quickness of Joe Mixon, or the dense momentum of Samaje Perine (though he certainly packs his own helping of oomph), but he has in spades the vision that was his predecessors’ shared secret weapon. 17 carries for 62 yards isn’t exactly astonishing, but against a D-line as good as any in college football, Sermon ran with patience and poise, making his way through traffic jams to grab whatever yardage was available, then falling forward to seal the deal. He added to his ground game total with three receptions for twenty-three yards, including a touchdown catch that showed good hands and physicality.
In my head, the inevitability of Grant Calcaterra’s rise to stardom has become a bit of a meme. When he came in for Mark Andrews, my immediate thought was that we were in for some real “cometh the hour, cometh the man” stuff. Calcaterra only had one reception, and dropped a pass that was thrown a bit behind him, but the pass he did catch was a beauty, and good for a 21 yard gain. Grant Calcaterra is going to be special, mark my words.
(after all, he was great at The Opening)
Ever since it became clear the Kenneth Murray would be starting at middle linebacker, the Oklahoma Drill podcast has featured a lot of talk between Alex and I about how potentially disastrous a true freshman mike would be against an offense as misdirection-run-heavy as Ohio State’s. Kenneth Murray proved us wrong, making Lincoln Riley’s statement that “soon, he’ll be making all the plays” ring true. My personal favorite highlight was on a JT Barrett rollout that quickly turned into a frantic scramble, ending in a deep throw to the sideline as Murray closed on him with frightening quickness. Kenneth Murray certainly passes the linebacker eye test standing still, and I’m happy to confirm that he passes it in motion as well.
Four great young players, all making immediate impacts in a program-defining win. But the youth movement at Oklahoma runs deeper even than this.
Lincoln Riley is barely thirty-four years old. In his second game as a head coach, after having been handed the keys to one of the nation’s most storied football programs by a head coach who was the longest-tenured in FBS-football and the winningest coach in program history, he handily dispatched the number-two ranked team in the country on the road. Urban Meyer is a brilliant coach and Lincoln left him guessing on both sides of the ball. OU looked good, but more than that, OU looked fun. OU looked fast. Most of the time saying a team “played like a young team” is a criticism, but OU had a youthful, reckless abandon to it. Direct snap to the halfback? Yeah, we’ll run that three times and gouge them every time. Read option-pitch-back-to-the-quarterback? It’s in the playbook, we run it with our backup. This team has the sort of fearlessness that experience tends to destroy. Even Baker, a redshirt senior, is as noted for his boundless energy as he is for his ability to do close-up magic in the context of a passing pocket.
OU football is young again. It feels young again. Oh, to be young again.