“He’s made for atmospheres like this. This is his favorite thing in the world,” Oklahoma Coach Lincoln Riley said of Mayfield.
Yet those performances had to be saved by an Oklahoma defense that had been torched for much of the afternoon. With the Sooners ahead by three with just more than three minutes remaining, Mayfield was intercepted in the end zone on third down. But the Oklahoma defense — which yielded 652 yards, forced only three punts and had allowed the Cowboys to convert each of the first three times they went for it on fourth down — came up with a crucial turnover on downs at the Oklahoma 38-yard line with 1:06 left.
Two plays later, Trey Sermon burst through the line for 53 yards and one last touchdown to keep the Sooners’ College Football Playoff goals and Mayfield’s Heisman hopes intact.
“I’m not worried about winning that,” Mayfield said. “I’m worried about winning games.”
Both of those ambitions were bolstered on a day of upsets across college football, although this performance by Mayfield and the Sooners was impressive enough to render that help irrelevant. Mayfield outdueled Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph, who was hardly a slouch in passing for 448 yards and five touchdowns and pulling his team within three points twice in the second half. It simply wasn’t enough to upstage Mayfield, who is now 13-0 in true road games during his career. Oklahoma has won a national-best 15 consecutive road games, including 13 straight true Big 12 road games, which ties a conference record.
“No matter how you put it, we win ballgames,” Mayfield said. “If we keep winning we take care of our own destiny. I’m not exactly sure who lost across the country, but our job is to win.”
The betting over-under for this game was set at 76 earlier this week, but that was reached by halftime with the score tied at 38. Mayfield and Rudolph each threw for three touchdowns in a half that featured 857 yards of total offense. For a while, it seemed as if the Football Bowl Subdivision record of 1,708 combined yards in a game — set last year by Oklahoma and Texas Tech — was in jeopardy. In light of that, perhaps the most stunning part of the first half was that Oklahoma opted to run out the clock inside its own territory with more than 30 seconds remaining.
Rudolph’s first major mistake of the second half came on the second drive of the half from his own 1-yard line, when Oklahoma defensive lineman Kenneth Mann stripped him. The ball hung in the air and was intercepted by linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. That led to a field goal. Rudolph’s second major mistake of the half came on a first and goal from the 3, when he telegraphed a slant into double coverage and was picked off in the end zone by Sooners defensive back Will Johnson.
“We made the plays when we had to,” Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said.
Mayfield looked exhausted in the late stages of a game that lasted well over four hours; after throwing a 43-yard touchdown to running back Rodney Anderson on a wide-open wheel route late in the third quarter to make it 48-38, he limped back to the sideline with his head down before Anderson had even reached the end zone. He found his second wind. On the next possession, he gunned a 77-yard touchdown throw to Brown and responded by running the length of his sideline, high-stepping and clapping hands with his coaches and teammates, celebrating yet another Heisman moment in an afternoon filled with them.
Afterward, Mayfield showed Boone Pickens Stadium his greasy facial hair one last time as he walked back to the locker room, his arm around senior cornerback Jordan Thomas.
“This is a game,” Mayfield said, “that I’ll always remember.”