Here are three thoughts from the Sooners’ victory:
1. Baker Mayfield came through when it counted for Oklahoma
Oklahoma’s offense struggled for three quarters with Mayfield at the helm. As the Sooners managed just three points through the first three quarters, the quarterback looked little like the transfer who helped Oklahoma easily dispatch Akron last week. Tennessee defenders like defensive end Derek Barnett chased Mayfield all over the backfield for much of the night. Volunteers safety Todd Kelly even snagged two interceptions from Mayfield.
But the quarterback completely turned things around in the fourth quarter. He capped drives of 13 and 14 plays with touchdown passes to help force overtime, and he ran in the tying score in the first extra period. Finally, Mayfield’s pass to Sterling Shepard in the second overtime gave the Sooners their first lead of the game, one they wouldn’t relinquish.
Mayfield only completed 19 of his 39 passes and gave up those two picks, but he remained poised in a rowdy environment while faced with a double-digit deficit. That’s the kind of leadership Oklahoma needs within its new Air Raid offense. It’s also why the Sooners could now be more dangerous as Big 12 contenders than anyone thought.
2. The Vols’ offense couldn’t get off the ground
One week after reeling off 604 yards in a 59–30 win over Bowling Green, Tennessee’s offense sputtered. The Vols managed a mere 254 yards of offense against Oklahoma, or 3.3 yards per play.
Quarterback Joshua Dobbs and running back Jalen Hurd showed flashes of their immense talent, but overall Tennessee gained just 3.7 yards per pass and 2.9 yards per carry. The Vols went nearly three full quarters without scoring a point after building a 17–0 lead. Tennessee features a number of weapons on offense, but against a tough opponent Saturday, those weapons weren’t enough to consistently put points on the board.
3. Tennessee isn’t ready for the big stage
Many pegged the Vols as darkhorse SEC contenders entering the 2015 season. But Saturday’s loss proved Tennessee simply isn’t ready to hang with the big boys.
The Vols blew their biggest home lead (17 points) in program history. After taking that 17–0 lead with 12:14 left in the second quarter, Tennessee didn’t score again until their first possession of overtime. In the interim, Oklahoma found its offensive footing and tied the game.
The loss dropped Tennessee to 1–28 in its last 29 games against ranked opponents. Butch Jones has done a remarkable job recruiting talent to Knoxville, but his Vols must learn how to close out big games. Until then, they aren’t contenders for a conference title.