Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield on what he learned from last year's run to the playoff
NORMAN, Okla. — Walking through a fence and making a left brings you to the lounge in Oklahoma's temporary football facilities, a bit of ad hoc hospitality brought about by a $160 million renovation currently in full swing at Memorial Stadium. In that lounge, at a corner table, Baker Mayfield preps for a geology test.
"Rocks and transformation boundaries!" the Sooners rising senior quarterback notes, feigning excitement.
It has been almost two months since the ground shifted under Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, when a 37–17 loss to Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal sent its season into a gully. But Mayfield and Co. are more focused on the March 5 start of spring practice than the disappointing results on New Year's Eve, and are therefore concentrated on what it will take to return to college football's final four next winter.
Mayfield, who threw for 3,711 yards with 36 touchdowns in an All-America campaign last fall, wears a gray sweatshirt that suggests what his goal is for 2016: OWN THE PLAYOFF, it reads. The Sooners' signal-caller took a break from plate tectonics to talk about how he enters a year in which he will be a Heisman Trophy frontrunner and one of the leaders of a team in pursuit of a reappearance in the national title hunt.
Campus Rush: You didn't get the result you wanted in the Orange Bowl, but what was your reflection on the 2015 season as a whole?
Baker Mayfield: It's frustrating to not finish up the way we wanted to, but we need to realize we did have a good season. I mean, 11–2, Big 12 champs, that's how it should be around here. That's kind of the standard. Obviously not winning the Orange Bowl and not going to the national championship is frustrating, but to have that bar set high again is what you really want young guys to see—what it takes to get there. The way we played in our two losses, it's all on us. We didn't play our best. Going into next year, thinking about it, it's settling in and doing your job. Don't worry about the stage you're on or who you're playing. Just do your job.
CR: When you dissected the Orange Bowl loss, what did you see?
BM: Just trying to do too much. It was a very high-energy game and a high level, but we cost ourselves with penalties and dumb mental mistakes that we normally didn't make. We let those mistakes that we made against Texas (in a 24–17 loss on Oct. 10) creep up again.
CR: Did you get away from it all before you looked at the film?
BM: I had to. Just who I am, I had to get away from it a little bit. I had to go home and relax and I watched the film probably a week later.Andy Lyons/Getty Images
CR: Did you count yourself in the doing-too-much crowd?
BM: A couple decisions, (I) just tried to press the ball deep a couple times that I would've liked to have back. I always like to play aggressive—that's not something I'm going to take away from my game. But there were a couple times in certain situations where we could've used a check down here, or a shorter pass to keep the drive going. Which is what I was doing better later in the year. (I) just got frustrated with not having anything offensively in the second half and trying to press too much.
CR: What did you, or the offense as a unit, learn that you must carry over to the spring, summer and fall?
BM: With the talent level we have and the coaching staff we have, we need to be able to go out and score 50, 60 points a game. That's that mental edge—you have to realize you can never be satisfied with what you've done. There's always more. The moment you get complacent is when it bites you right in the butt.
CR: Looking back at last season, what worked so well offensively?
BM: The coaches learned how to play with our guys. Yeah, it's an 'Air Raid' offense or whatever you want to call it, but with our personnel, we have two of the best backs (Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon) in the country. And the way (offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley) learned how to call plays and use them all the time and give defenses mismatches, that's really when we kind of turned it over and realized if we don't stop ourselves, nobody can. It was realizing that who we have is all we need, and that's what worked for us.
CR: So, what's on your personal checklist to improve starting in March?
BM: Personal stuff is obviously decision-making. Learning I need to control my game and get the guys around me to continue to play hard. That's something I pride myself on, is getting those guys to work harder. Physically, going into spring, it's trying to drop down a little weight and put on some muscle mass and get faster. I'm not the fastest guy, but I can always improve my quickness. My stuff right now is kind of helping out the younger guys. It's not if I know what I'm doing—it's if I can teach those other guys and help them come along, and that'll help me learn a little more.
CR: What is going to be different for you this off-season compared to last year?
BM: (This is) a young group, so I'm a guy that has a lot of the game experience. Between Samaje and I, I think we have the most game experience on the whole team, offensively. It's being that leader and showing them what's right and wrong every day. It's not just leading by example, but every once in a while putting your arm around a young guy and telling them they're doing a good job, or slapping them on the butt and telling them they need to pick it up, and that we need them. It's not as if I wasn't a leader last year, but we had a lot of senior leadership that had been here, and people had been watching them for a long time. Now I'm in that role.
CR: What is going to get you guys back to where you were, in the College Football Playoff?
BM: Realizing we have to take it week by week. You can't win all your games right now. It's about the preparation to get to where you need to be to get to the best point, right before the season. From there it's preparing each week and not taking anybody lightly. Like I said earlier, the Texas game, we kind of got complacent and thought we had it in the bag, just because of their record. But they came out and hit us right in the mouth. So it's a week-by-week thing, and just getting prepared.