- Down 20–0 early, QB Sam Ehlinger led the Longhorns back against Oklahoma, but he was one-upped by Baker Mayfield as the Sooners captured the Golden Hat Trophy.
Coming off a shocking loss to Iowa State a week ago, Oklahoma and quarterback Baker Mayfield needed a win Saturday to keep their playoff hopes alive. Enter Texas, resurgent after two straight wins and an overtime loss to USC, in the Sooners’ annual rivalry game.
Early on Saturday, the game seemed to be going to script. No. 12 Oklahoma took a 20–0 lead in the second quarter, and I can imagine the bigwigs of the Big 12 conference breathed a sigh of relief; the Sooners losing would have been a massive blow to the conference’s playoff hopes. (I see you, TCU.) Even at halftime, with Oklahoma up 20–10, it didn’t seem like much of a game.
That would change. By the fourth quarter, Texas was up, 24–23, thanks to freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who’s contributed to much of the Longhorns’ recent success. When Mayfield appeared to hurt his shoulder late in the game, it looked like Oklahoma might be courting disaster, but in the end he missed no time, and the game was resolved in the same way it played out all afternoon: with a battle of the quarterbacks.
Mayfield, still a strong Heisman contender, won the day.
The Sooners got the ball back down a point with 8:01 remaining, and though he could have taken his time and eaten up some clock—that’s the only criticism of Mayfield I can muster—the Oklahoma quarterback made quick work of Texas’s defense, driving 19 yards on first a pass and then a running play before launching the ball for a 59-yard touchdown pass to Mark Andrews. The Sooners’ two-point conversion failed, but that score was enough to get them through two more Texas drives and leave with a 29–24 win.
Saturday’s game was another bullet point on Mayfield’s Heisman resume. He went 17 of 27 for 302 yards, averaging 11.2 yards per attempt, and threw for two touchdowns and an interception (his first of the season). Still, to say he was far and away the best quarterback on the field would be an insult to Ehlinger. In just his fourth career start, the freshman completed 19 of 39 passes for 278 yards, and his 106 rushing yards were 90 more than any other Longhorn put up on Saturday. Regardless of the outcome, it looks like coach Tom Herman has found his quarterback of the future in Austin.
Before this week, Oklahoma had yet to score fewer than 30 points in a game in 2017. Even in last week’s loss it put up 31 against Iowa State, and the fact that Texas’s defense kept the Sooners in check as well as it did is notable. Keeping a team that routinely puts up more than 600 yards of offense to 518 isn’t going to earn Texas’s defense comparisons to Clemson’s, but it is nothing to look down upon. And the fact that Oklahoma converted only five of its 15 third-down conversion attempts is something the Longhorns should take pride in.
In the end, this year’s Red River game won’t have Big 12 implications. The Longhorns fell to 3–3 and have a not entirely easy road to becoming bowl eligible. But with two new, young coaches and a Texas team on the rise, it’s easy to imagine this rivalry being a back-and-forth one—and having implications for the playoff picture—for years to come.