Lamb's ejection can't undo breakout game
Dejected by an ejection for targeting, freshman still is a bright light for Sooners
NORMAN — CeeDee Lamb was in the midst of a breakout game, beating Tulane defenders down the field, going up for jump balls and maneuvering his way into the end zone.
He already had broken the Oklahoma record for the longest reception by a freshman, and he was closing in on Ryan Broyles' school record for the most receiving yards by a freshman in a game.
Then, in an instant, he went from celebrating to slamming his hands on his helmet and walking off the field.
Late in the second quarter of OU's 56-14 victory against Tulane, the Sooners ran a wide receiver reverse. As Jeff Badet took the flip around the left edge, quarterback Baker Mayfield ran upfield and blocked a defender. And with only one Tulane player in Badet's vicinity, Lamb came from the outside and delivered a punishing hit to free safety Taris Shenall.
Badet dashed into the end zone and celebrated — and then he looked back. A yellow flag was on the field, and as the official announced the penalty, the OU crowd united in a resounding boo.
Lamb was flagged for targeting, which means he was automatically ejected from the game. And like that, his breakout performance was cut short, his electric mood dimmed for the rest of the night.
The play was reviewed, but officials confirmed the call. And as teammates patted Lamb on the back on his way off the playing field, OU fans continued to boo at replays on the video board.
“We expected it was going to be overturned,” coach Lincoln Riley said.
Lamb didn't lead with his head, but according to referee Dan Romeo's interpretation, he blind-sided Shenall unnecessarily.
“In this instance, we had a defenseless player,” Romeo explained to a pool reporter after the game. “… That means he doesn't see it coming and there's contact to the head and neck area. That's what was ruled.”
But for as much controversy as there was, it did not undo the game CeeDee Lamb had or what he proved Saturday. Lamb helped OU overcome a slow start in the first quarter, when a Tulane defender bit on a playaction fake and Mayfield lofted a ball deep down the middle of the field to Lamb. The play turned into an 82-yard touchdown, with Lamb and the gold twists in his hair running like a star born to play in Norman.
“I saw a lot of green, and I just ran 'til I couldn't run no more,” Lamb said.
Later, Mayfield again threw to Lamb over the middle, and Lamb held on for a 22-yard touchdown catch, wiggling past a defender into the end zone.
“He's just got a lot of confidence,” Mayfield said about the 6-foot-1 Lamb. “He believes in himself, and I respect that, coming from somebody who has the same mindset. I think it takes him to a whole other level, so it's good to see a freshman doing that.”
One week removed from catching five passes for 61 yards in prime time against Ohio State, Lamb continued to prove his worth as maybe OU's most trustworthy receiver, and perhaps, OU's next pass-catching star.
“I already had a high trust in him, but seeing how he plays in big games when the lights come on, it just grows from there,” Mayfield said. “You can have some guys that are making plays in practice, but then they kind of shy away from doing the same thing in a game. But he has that factor where he plays better when the lights come on.”
The only place Lamb might have seemed like a freshman was in postgame interviews, where he wouldn't comment on the targeting call and stuck closely to the script he was likely given. He thanked Mayfield, he thanked Riley's game plan and he thanked his offensive line.
But listen closely, and there were hints of an emerging confidence that could only have grown with Saturday's performance.
“I just wanted to contribute as much as I could, and with tonight being a big game, I guess you could say it's happened quickly,” Lamb said.
Oklahoma wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (left) is tripped up by Tulane cornerback Donnie Lewis Jr. on Saturday night. Before his ejection for targeting, Lamb had four catches for 131 yards and two touchdowns.