Confident quarterback Baker Mayfield has helped resuscitate Oklahoma's stagnant offense
Bob Stoops had heard the Internet rumors for weeks. But when the Oklahoma coach showed up for his team's first meeting in early January 2014 just days after stunning Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, he still didn't believe them. After all, Sooners quarterback Trevor Knight had dazzled in the victory with 348 passing yards and four touchdown passes, earning the game's MVP honors.
Yet after the meeting ended and Stoops was about to hit the road recruiting, he was approached by a floppy-haired and stubble-faced young man, who had prompted all the conjecture.
"Coach," he told Stoops, "I'm Baker Mayfield."
The 6' 1", 209-pound quarterback who stood before Stoops had been named the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year the previous month after throwing for 2,315 yards with 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions at Texas Tech. Mayfield had been a walk-on in Lubbock but finally left because of his general unhappiness with Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury, who decided to wait to put Mayfield on scholarship.
Mayfield, however, wasn't asking Stoops for a scholarship. The signal-caller just wanted to let his new coach know he had enrolled at Oklahoma, where he had attended Sooners games as a child and would be a walk-on once again.
"I'm glad you're here," Stoops recalls telling Mayfield. "I look forward to working with you."
Nearly two years later, the dynamic Mayfield has helped Stoops resuscitate an Oklahoma offense that had become stale in recent years. Under first-year offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley's up-tempo Air Raid attack, the No. 12 Sooners (8-1, 5-1 Big 12) are third in the FBS in scoring per game this season (46.3).
Oklahoma will need those fireworks Saturday night at sixth-ranked Baylor (8-0, 5-0) in a clash in which the winner will continue to control its own destiny for the Big 12 title. The Bears lead the nation in scoring offense at an astronomical 57.4 points per game and have beaten Oklahoma two straight times.
Only this time, the Sooners have Mayfield. The junior has completed 70.2% of his passes for 2,812 yards with 28 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He's also rushed for 225 yards and five touchdowns on 95 attempts.
"He's doing exactly what we expected him to do," Stoops tells The Inside Read.
Mayfield was forced to sit out last season following the NCAA's denial of his appeal for immediate eligibility. The governing body, however, did grant a waiver that allowed Oklahoma to exceed its scholarship limit by one so that Mayfield could receive the aid. He still had to wait to be named the starter this season, though.
The Austin, Texas, product didn't get the job until about two weeks before his team's opener. Stoops says Mayfield had fewer turnovers than Knight and his other competition in preseason practices. It also helped that Mayfield is a natural scrambler with a strong arm who has an uncanny ability to make big plays.
"He's got a knack to find space or feel space and to get out of things and make something happen when there's not much there," Stoops says.
As well as Mayfield has played this season, Stoops insists Mayfield's best is still to come in Riley's high-flying offense. "He'll only keep growing in it," Stoops says.
Yet even now, Stoops still admits his surprise when Mayfield showed up at Oklahoma after Knight's Sugar Bowl heroics. He says he wondered then why Mayfield would make such a move, but he understands it now.
"He's got true confidence," Stoops says. "Regardless of the circumstances, he was going to come here and give himself an opportunity to play."
Mayfield's impressive play is only adding to his legendary arrival at Oklahoma. He's once again creating Internet buzz, but this time it's not a rumor.
A Baker Mayfield for Heisman song was recently released.
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Clay Helton succeeding in second stint as USC's interim coach
USC interim coach Clay Helton believes he's discovered the secret. At least to being an interim coach. He took over for Steve Sarkisian last month and has a 3-1 record since then entering Friday night's game at Colorado (4-6, 1-5). That lone loss came at No. 4 Notre Dame, Helton's first game after being promoted from offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
"The number one thing is just being your self," Helton tells The Inside Read. "Kids can smell falseness in a hurry."
The 43-year-old Helton would know because this is the second time he's been USC's interim coach. The Trojans (6-3, 4-2 Pac-12) won the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl under him after he took over for Ed Orgeron, who had been the team's interim coach for eight games after Lane Kiffin was fired earlier that season.
As interim coach, Helton takes a holistic approach to his players. "We're doing everything possible to make it a great experience, win ballgames and care for them," Helton says.
Helton's also changed up practice some with more physical and competitive run-heavy sessions on Tuesdays. Wednesday practices are now more passing and pass rushing-oriented.
All the sessions are also shorter and crisper with starters facing each other more often, according to Helton. "We've done a good job of trying to keep the kids fresh to get really quality work," Helton says.
And Helton's made a case to potentially have his interim tag removed if the Trojans win their final three regular-season games, which also includes a trip to Oregon (6-3, 4-2) and hosting No. 19 UCLA (7-2, 4-2).
"They know who I am, they trust me and we've built great relationships," Helton says of his players. "I can't be coach Sarkisian, I can't be coach Orgeron. I've just got to be myself. I think they feed off that."
Sounds like a secret to success.
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