“Honestly, it was pretty simple,” Oklahoma tackle Orlando Brown Jr. said. “It was Baker vs. Pat.”
Through a quarter of the NFL season, few players, if any, have proved more compelling than quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Patrick Mahomes. Mayfield, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and first overall pick of this year’s draft, led the Browns to their first win in more than 600 days in his first appearance and, on Sunday, helped Cleveland produce 42 points in a losing effort in his first start. Mahomes, after engineering an electrifying, game-winning touchdown drive late Monday night, has emerged as the MVP front-runner in his first season as a starter for the undefeated Chiefs, one year after Kansas City traded up to pick him 10th overall.
Mayfield and Mahomes have combined to light up the NFL. Two years ago, they combined for one of the looniest college football games in recent memory.
Mayfield’s Sooners defeated Mahomes’s Red Raiders, 66-59, as Oklahoma and Texas Tech totaled 1,708 yards, which broke the previous record by more than 60. Mayfield passed for 545 yards and seven touchdowns. Mahomes threw 88 times for 734 yards, which tied a record. He also ran 12 times for 85 yards, which gave him a record 819 total yards. And he lost.
Joe Mixon, now on the Cincinnati Bengals, gained 377 yards from scrimmage and scored five touchdowns. Four receivers — led by current NFLers Dede Westbrook and Keke Coutee — gained at least 100 yards receiving. Oklahoma became the first team in history with a 500-yard passer, 200-yard receiver and 200-yard rusher in a single game and scored touchdowns on its final six possessions — and still needed to recover an onside kick to hold off Mahomes.
“It’s the most unique game I’ve ever been in,” said Oklahoma tight end Mark Andrews, now a Baltimore Ravens rookie. “I remember being on the sideline, and I had absolutely zero fear we were going to score. Everybody knew that we were going to score. Everybody knew that they were going to score. I’ve never been part of a game where you touch the field, and there’s no doubt in your mind you’re going the whole length, you’re getting seven — and if you don’t, you’re going to lose the game.”
At the time, the NFL viewed both quarterbacks with skepticism. The high-powered versions of the spread run in the Big 12, which sprung from Texas Tech’s famed Air Raid offense, were seen as unfit incubators for professional talent — a view that has flipped in the small amount of time since. Mayfield’s small stature and Mahomes’s perceived rawness marked both as prospects headed for draft positions outside the first round, and so the crazy box score in that game was viewed in the immediate aftermath more as an extreme example of Big 12 scoring run amok than a foreshadowing of two future NFL rising stars.
The night began with menace in the air. Mayfield had started his career at Texas Tech, transferring after he won Big 12 freshman of the year following a dispute with Red Raiders Coach Kliff Kingsbury. He squabbled with Texas Tech over gaining an extra year of eligibility under transfer rules, and animosity built on both sides. In 2014, when he returned to campus for an Oklahoma game, a Lubbock restaurant kicked Mayfield out as he ate tacos.
Now, he had returned as the quarterback of a powerhouse conference rival. Students wore T-shirts emblazoned with the word, “Traitor.” The crowd chanted, “[Bleep] you, Ba-ker!” Oklahoma players said fans hurled batteries at Mayfield and threw frozen tortillas at players, coaches and cheerleaders. As he walked onto the field, Brown saw a tortilla fly past him and thwack his offensive line teammate Ben Powers in the face.
“To start the game, literally the whole stadium is filled,” said Andrews, who roomed with Mayfield at OU. “They’re throwing stuff at Bake, chanting stuff at Bake. It was 100 percent about Baker. He knew that. It brought a little more edge, and he feeds off negativity and people screaming at him.”
While Mayfield attracted the crowd’s ire, the atmosphere affected both quarterbacks. Kingsbury never thought the game would unfold as it did, but he sensed Mahomes would feed off the same energy as Mayfield.
“Baker wanted to win here with the history here, and Pat wanted to protect his home-field advantage,” Kingsbury said. “Those two were going to go down swinging, and they were going to cut it loose with everything they’ve got. It made for an offensive explosion the likes of which had never been seen before.”
It took Oklahoma four plays to score the game’s first touchdown. Mayfield tossed a pass to Mixon out of the backfield, and he trotted into the end zone for a 56-yard score. Texas Tech fumbled on its third play, and given the ball back immediately, Mayfield fired a 49-yard touchdown to Westbrook. Less than four minutes in, even with a missed extra point, the Sooners had taken a 13-0 lead.
“We expected to go in there and blow them out,” Mixon said. “But Pat Mahomes, when you put the ball in his hands, you don’t know what they’re capable of.”
Oklahoma’s only two punts came on their next two possessions, and the game shifted. Mahomes hit wide receiver Jonathan Giles — who has since transferred to LSU — in the corner of the end zone and gave Texas Tech a brief lead. Oklahoma got the ball back with 28 seconds left in the half. In two plays — a 52-yard heave to Westbrook and a 23-yard strike to Nick Basquine — the Sooners had retaken a 30-24 edge.
In the Oklahoma locker room at halftime, Mayfield stood in front of his teammates and said, “If you’re scared and you don’t want to score every drive, then stay in here.”
By then, the Sooners had realized the full extent of the force they faced in Mahomes.
“Pat Mahomes was making throws that just didn’t make sense,” Brown said.
Late in the third quarter, near midfield, Oklahoma’s pass rush flushed Mahomes to his left. As he drifted toward the sideline with his foot on the 50, Mahomes spun to square his shoulders, leaped and rifled the ball into the end zone, hitting Giles for a touchdown to bring Texas Tech to within a touchdown, again.
“That game was definitely one of the games that showed what he could do,” said Tech wide receiver Cameron Batson, now a member of the Tennessee Titans. “He has one of the best no-look passes I’ve ever seen. He even tricks the receivers sometimes.”
As a Big 12 coach, then-OU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley has been involved in too many shootouts to remember. “That one was a little different,” Riley said. “You could tell there wasn’t any people playing the position at a higher level than those two.”
The sheer length of the game also made it feel different. Texas Tech ran more than 100 plays. Both teams had to play with the pedal down all game, constantly passing, never even trying to drain the clock. When a reporter told Fox analyst Brady Quinn he wanted to ask him about Texas Tech-Oklahoma from 2016, Quinn replied, “The one that’s still going on, you mean?”
“That was the longest football game I ever played in,” Mixon said.
Oklahoma stopped Mahomes once in the second half, and Texas Tech never once halted Mayfield and Mixon and Westbrook. Mahomes refused to go away, hitting Batson for the game’s final touchdown with less than two minutes left, but after an onside kick, the Red Raiders ran out of time.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Quinn said. “As much as you can chalk it up to the brilliance of both quarterbacks, I also think it was lack of any defense being played. That was kind of ridiculous.”
“Both defenses after got a lot of flack,” said Riley, who became the head coach before 2017. “But I told people after the game, there wasn’t any defense that was going to stop those two teams that night. You could tell the two trigger guys were pretty special. It was a heck of a duel. Both guys just didn’t make mistakes, continued to make play after play.”
Afterward, Oklahoma players walked back to their locker room dodging full water bottles flung by fans. The Red Raiders had to reckon with gaining nearly 900 yards, but not a win. Asked what he remembers now, Batson said: “Losing.”
Mahomes and Mayfield had known each other years before the game — Mayfield hosted Mahomes on a Texas Tech recruiting visit before he transferred. They’ll see each other again when Kansas City plays in Cleveland on Nov. 1. It is early in both their careers, but they may be linked for years to come as two of the NFL’s most thrilling passers. Even if not, they will always have a crazy night in Lubbock.
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