Sharp coach + dynamic QB = enough points to win
AMES, Iowa — As the Oklahoma Sooners emerged without their Heisman Trophywinning quarterback Saturday morning, a cute if predictable chant went up from Iowa State's students:
“Where! Is! Ba-ker!”
On Twitter, apparently.
When Matt Miller of Bleacher Report criticized Kyler Murray during OU's 37-27 win in Ames, Mayfield tweeted a response that included: “... You're ignorant if you think Kyler isn't talented. Pure ignorance.”
OK. But what about the Sooners? Where are they?
Based on Saturday's result, I suggest they are right back where they were when Mayfield, and not Murray, quarterbacked them.
The past three years, OU's defense tackled and positioned haphazardly enough to put the Sooners in dangerous places. That was once more the case on this strangely scalding day at a place famous for its wind chill.
“Everybody knows that we tackled terribly,” OU cornerback Parnell Motley said.
“Very poor,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops agreed.
“We've got to stop giving up big plays, and we have to get off the field on third down and tackle better,” linebacker Curtis Bolton criticized. “I need to tackle a lot better.”
The Sooners were scattershot and scatterbrained too often. They committed personal fouls to assist two Iowa State scoring drives. Stoops said they got out of alignment.
The Cyclones played hard and well, but they also had some help in posting 360 passing yards, 20 first downs and 27 points one week after managing a measly field goal against Iowa.
ISU pestered OU for 3½ hours as a result. It was 10-10 in the second quarter, 24-17 and 31-24 in the third, and 34-27 before Austin Seibert's 43-yard field goal sealed things with 2:51 remaining.
Bothered as they were, the Sooners never lost their composure or their lead. That's because Murray kept his composure and kept making plays, just as Mayfield did over his absurd three-year run.
Mayfield running coach Lincoln Riley's offense was college football's surest thing. He got a lead and, no matter how many times the Sooners fiddled with it, he made sure he kept it. It could be an explosive play or a tedious drive, but he always had an answer no matter how many times you questioned the situation.
Murray provided the answers Saturday.
He was 8-of-9 passing for 101 yards and two touchdowns over his last two possessions of the first half. Iowa State had pulled into a 10-10 tie, but by the time Murray finished 75- and 74-yard scoring drives, it was 24-10 at the break.
The Cyclones scored off three drives in the second half, and the Sooners responded with points all three times. With Murray throwing to Marquise Brown and engineering a run game that he helped jump-start with 10 designed keepers, OU never put itself at ultimate risk.
“Every time they put points on the board, we took the initiative of putting points up, too,” Brown said after his ninecatch, 191-yard day.
“That's what we do,” Murray said. “At the University of Oklahoma, the past couple years coach Riley has been here, the offense has been potent. We take pride in that. Every time we go on the field we know we have a high chance of scoring.
“We also know we have to do that for the defense. It goes both ways. They've got to get stops, we've got to score the ball.”
With Mayfield, OU mostly scored the ball. That won a lot of games and a trio of Big 12 championships.
Without him, you wondered whether the Sooners could rediscover that formula or perhaps use another one.
Yes and no, judging from Saturday.
Riley was answering a question about what he learned before leaving Ames when he said: “Probably the way we responded. We were tough. Made enough plays to get it done.”
The Sooners can take comfort it's still his offense, and the quarterback running it is still awfully good.
Oklahoma wide receiver A.D. Miller (left) celebrates a 75-yard touchdown catch by Marquise Brown against Iowa State in the first quarter Saturday in Ames, Iowa.