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As Ohio Stadium emptied and the dazed home crowd poured into the Columbus night, there was Baker Mayfield at the center of it all, wielding an Oklahoma flag and that wild look in his eyes. The quarterback circled the opposing field in the moments following the Sooners’ 31-16 upset victory over Ohio State—mustering up enough energy after running for his life the last few hours.
His sprint finally came to a halt on the 50-yard line. Then, in a moment that will be debated and dissected in the days and weeks to follow, Mayfield fiercely planted the flag at the 50-yard line—right in the center of the giant “O”—washing away last year’s defeat at the hands of the Buckeyes:
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Oh, was it beautiful and raw and wonderfully controversial. To many, likely disrespectful. To many more, completely unnecessary. But it was also a gesture perfectly synonymous with the player: a mix of edge and emotion that has existed for as long as he has played the game.
And, if nothing else, it was an everlasting reminder of how good Mayfield was on this Saturday night and how the sport hasn’t seen anyone like him in some time.
“He was ready to play this game,” Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley said during his postgame interview on ABC following the victory. “He’s the best quarterback in America, and he played like it tonight.”
For three years, Mayfield has done these things. He has posted gaudy numbers and won marquee games against marquee programs. He’s led a team to a playoff and thrown his name in the Heisman discussion the last two years.
And he has done all this in an authentic way—from the way he dances, to the way he celebrates a key moment on the field or on the sideline, to the way he escapes the most dire football situations and turns them into positive plays.
No player can turn broken plays into masterpieces quite like him. No quarterback turns despair into a place of comfort quite like Mayfield.
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It hasn’t always been as brilliant as it was against Ohio State, but his dismantling of the Buckeyes should come as no surprise. His final numbers (386 passing yards and three touchdowns) were more or less what he has done since he debuted for the Sooners in 2015.
There have been exceptions, of course. Like Mayfield’s two-interception effort in a 45-24 defeat against Ohio State in September of last season, which is the last time Oklahoma lost. For further fuel or reasoning behind his 50-yard flag plant, look no further than the obvious.
But mostly, Mayfield has been dazzling. At Oklahoma, he has accounted for 95 touchdowns and been intercepted only 15 times. He has won 24 of 28 games at the school, leading his team to its first College Football Playoff berth. He is also a perfect 10-of-10 in true road games.
And yet, at a time when collegiate quarterback play is in the midst of a wonderful year, Mayfield feels somehow under-celebrated. Unlike UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph and USC’s Sam Darnold, Mayfield, standing at 6’1″, is not blessed with an NFL prototype build. He is not the same absurd athlete as Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, despite his ability to move in and around the pocket.
He is his own brand; a player with mixed NFL buzz. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller projects him in fourth round of next year’s draft. Despite consistently posting quality performances in critical moments, Mayfield’s questions remain.
Perhaps this is why he has taken a back seat during the surplus of quarterback discussions that have taken place over the past eight months. Darnold and Allen were celebrated at length. Jackson, coming off a Heisman, was widely regarded as one of the faces of the sport.
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Mayfield’s biggest headline came when he was arrested for public intoxication, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and fleeing back in February. But football-wise? It’s been quiet. After Saturday, this is destined to change.
Through two games this year and 55 throws, he has almost as many touchdowns (6) as he does incompletions (9). He has done this despite losing a 1,500-yard wide receiver, Dede Westbrook, to the NFL. He also lost his top two running backs, Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine.
Tight end Mark Andrews, his new favorite target, left the Ohio State game early with a knee injury. After the Sooners scored only three points in the first 30 minutes, Mayfield led Oklahoma to four touchdowns in the second half.
This wasn’t purely revenge. It was much more than that. For the Sooners this was unquestionably a statement. It was a night that will likely carry a deeper significance well into the season. For Mayfield, this was the first of many large steps toward a Heisman.
It was deafening reminder that we are seeing something extraordinary. Something fresh and different.
It was a night that will likely be remembered for a glut of reasons: for the touchdowns and the yardage and the ramifications that are to follow. For the shock felt throughout Columbus and the celebration that ensued down below as the fans departed. For the outrage that is sure to follow from the gash Mayfield left in the center of Ohio Stadium, just to be certain they remember he was there.