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  • Baker Mayfield’s electric college career came to an end one game early, and for once the Heisman Trophy winner had to let the opposing defense do the talking.
By Bruce Feldman
January 02, 2018

PASADENA, Calif. — In the moments after Georgia punched in the game-winning touchdown in double overtime to end Oklahoma’s national title hopes on Monday night, Baker Mayfield made his way around the Sooners’ sideline to console teammates. As Oklahoma’s frenetic star wandered back onto the playing field to congratulate celebrating Bulldog players, Georgia linebacker Davin Bellamy began screaming at him.

“HUMBLE YOURSELF! HUMBLE YOURSELF!”

Bellamy stood near the spot on the field where the Heisman Trophy winner had aimed his wild, arms-flailing sprints back to the bench after each Oklahoma touchdown earlier in the day, when the Sooners scored on five of their first six possessions and looked like they were about to blow the Bulldogs out of the Rose Bowl. Instead, Georgia outscored Oklahoma 37–17 after halftime.

“They can say what they want,” Mayfield said, after acknowledging that he heard Bellamy’s comments. “They won the game.”

Credit the SEC champions for their resilience. Georgia’s senior running back tandem of Sony Michel and Nick Chubb combined for 326 rushing yards and five touchdowns, averaging a ridiculous 13 yards per carry. The Bulldogs also got strong play from true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, who conducts himself like a senior.

Maybe most importantly, the Bulldogs’ defense held Mayfield and head coach Lincoln Riley’s offense in check, limiting Oklahoma to just 4.2 yards per play in the second half after allowing nine per play in the first two quarters. According to Oklahoma offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh,​ Georgia threw more stunts and twists along their defensive front down the stretch to crank up the heat on Mayfield.

“I think early in the half we didn't run it as well,” Riley said. “We got a little one-dimensional. I probably hung our guys out there a little bit too much, especially against a talented front. They’re going to get there sometimes. They’re good up front. We are too. We moved the ball on them like nobody has even close all season. But they’re a good defense.

“Eventually they were going to make some plays, and they did. I’ve got to protect our guys a little bit better.”

“I really just think the emotion in the players settled down and played with a little more discipline and a little more passion and energy,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “It wasn't like there was a magic sprinkle dust. We called the same defenses we called in the first half. We just played them better. We didn’t even get them to third down in the first half, I don't think, once. [The Sooners faced eight third downs out of their 41 plays before the break.] It’s not indicative of who we are, and we’ve got to do a better job as coaches to put our players in a successful situation, and that’s my most disappointing thing that I didn’t do a good job."

The Heisman Trophy winner’s stat line was modest by his usual standards: 23 of 35 for 287 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, plus a touchdown catch on a trick-play pass from wide receiver CeeDee Lamb. Only 87 of those passing yards came after the first half. “Credit to them for not giving up,” Mayfield said. “When you get up that much on a team that loves to run the ball like Georgia does you think you’re going to blow it open but that’s why they’re in the playoff.”

Mayfield has been known for the emotion he displays during games but avoided controversy during his college finale. When asked about an apparent throat-slashing gesture after the game, he said it wasn’t directed at the Bulldogs. “When you get up on a team, you talk about stepping on their throats,” he said. “Obviously, we didn’t do that."

When the Sooners made the College Football Playoff two seasons ago, when Mayfield was a sophomore first-year starter, they turned in a clunker of a second-half showing, taking a 17–16 lead into the break against Clemson only to get hammered 21–0 in the second half. Mayfield acknowledged he’d thought a lot about that defeat this year and was determined “to finish up the right way.” Georgia wasn’t going to let that happen.

“This one hurts a lot more because I don’t ever get to put this jersey on,” Mayfield said.

Mayfield finished his college career—first as a Texas Tech walk-on, then as an Oklahoma walk-on transfer—with 131 touchdown passes, tied for the fourth most in FBS history. Over three years in Norman, he accounted for 12,292 passing yards and 119 touchdown passes, ranking second in school history in both categories. He also broke his own FBS single-season passing efficiency rating record with a 198.9 mark, up from 196.4 last season.

Sitting at a chair surrounded by reporters a half hour after the defeat, Mayfield said the loss had already set in. “I know I’ll never get to put this jersey on again or play for Coach Riley again. I grew up a Sooners fan. My dream came true.

“Talking to other former Sooners who have played in the [NFL], they just keep saying how it’s different [from college]. You gotta enjoy every moment.”

Few players packed more fun into a single season or a college career than Mayfield, who despite Monday’s loss will still go down as one of the greatest players in Oklahoma’s storied history. Next he’ll try to impress NFL personnel men ahead of April’s draft. He knows his height—he’s about an even six feet—will be held against him in some circles. There’s also some skepticism about how well he can throw the ball into the tight windows that you need to in the pro game, as opposed to the wide-open targets he’s often had at the college level.

“For me that next step’s coming very quickly,” Mayfield said. “I gotta get to work. That’s something that I know how to do.”

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