Quite the Connection

John Rohde
By John Rohde
Special to SoonerSports.com

In 18 seasons under coach Bob Stoops, the Oklahoma football team has featured some lethal pass-catch combinations.

  • Josh Heupel (1999-2000) to Brandon Daniels, Jarrail Jackson, Antwone Savage and Andre Woolfolk.
  • Jason White (1999-2004) to Mark Clayton, Trent Smith and Savage.
  • Paul Thompson (2006) to Malcolm Kelly.
  • Sam Bradford (2007-09) to Juaquin Iglesias, Jermaine Gresham and Kelly.
  • Landry Jones (2009-12) to Ryan Broyles, Kenny Stills and Justin Brown.
  • Baker Mayfield (2015-present) to Sterling Shepard.

However, perhaps the program's most efficient pass-catch tandem is the one currently on display.

In a 56-3 blowout over Kansas on Saturday night at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, the Mayfield-to-Dede Westbrook combo continued its torrid pace that's rearranging the OU record book.

Mayfield was 16-for-24 passing for 236 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. Westbrook caught five of those passes for 105 yards and one touchdown. These totals might seem modest, but they were accumulated in a span of roughly 1½ quarters.

The Sooners managed just seven net yards in their first seven plays against the surprisingly pesky Jayhawks. But from late in the first quarter to the 8:50 mark in the third quarter, the OU offense rolled up 365 yards on 38 plays with much of the damage coming from Mayfield and Westbrook.

In the process, Westbrook became just the sixth OU player to top the 1,000-yard receiving plateau in a single season. One of those past players is Shepard, now with the New York Giants and in attendance Saturday during his bye week.

"Pretty much before the game he told me to go off," Westbrook said of Shepard. "I knew he was in the stands and I knew he was watching so I had to do what I had to do. We talk after every football game. He calls me or I call him if he isn't so busy. We just talk about the game and how it went, just pretty much a recap."

In October alone (five Big 12 games), Westbrook has 12 total touchdowns that includes eight receiving scores of at least 40 yards (the previous school record for a season was five). In conference play, Westbrook tops all players with 176.2 receiving yards per game, 8.0 receptions per game, 22.0 yards per catch, 210.4 all-purpose yards and 12 touchdowns.

"He just continues to make big plays," OU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said of 6-foot, 175-pound Westbrook. "He's benefitted from how well we've played up front and how well we've run the ball. At times, when you see receivers go on big runs they'll attract more coverage, and you've got to be equipped to attack that when they do, and what we've seen (is) people not being able to do that because of how well we've run the ball. He's playing well, he's playing really good with the ball in his hands, and he's making a ton of big plays."

As if Mayfield and Westbrook playing a game of catch wasn't impressive enough, Westbrook added a 71-yard punt return to his resume in the first quarter, blowing past KU defenders untouched to give the Sooners a 7-0 lead.

"He's such a great player. Every time he touches the ball, he's got the chance of going all the way."
— Baker Mayfield on Dede Westbrook

"It was pretty much me just catching the ball," Westbrook said of the return. "The guys had every block all sewed up that anyone could've gone through the hole that they created for me. It was pretty much all up to them. Those guys got their blocks and I pretty much just ran up the seam."

The next time he touched the ball, Westbrook returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, but was only credited with a 30-yard return when a holding penalty nullified the score.

"The dude's a freak," Mayfield said with reverence toward Westbrook. "I almost got mad at him. If they would've counted the kickoff return, I wouldn't have had to play the first quarter... He's such a great player. Every time he touches the ball, he's got the chance of going all the way."

Had the penalty not occurred on the kickoff return, Westbrook would have had 300 all-purpose yards in slightly more than a half. Also thrown in the mix was a captivating 24-yard run off a lateral on a third-and-16 play that easily could have been stopped well short of the first down.

Asked of his outlandish October numbers, Westbrook modestly said, "I'm really out there just playing football. I don't really know about the whole stretch and the yards. I could really care less. I'm just really happy I'm out there playing with my brothers each and every week."

Meanwhile, Mayfield has catapulted himself to the No. 1 spot nationally in passing efficiency (195.8) and yards per pass attempt (10.9), No. 2 in passing yards per completion (15.38) and No. 5 in completion percentage (.709) and touchdown passes (27).

"He missed a couple (passes) early," Riley said of Mayfield, "but he's just really settling in well and he's throwing the deep ball so well right now — every one of them it seems like. He's been making a lot of plays."

Mayfield has done this while playing behind an offensive line that features two different starters than it did the first few weeks of the season.

Westbrook's touchdown reception against the Jayhawks came on a 41-yard connection early in the second quarter. With Mayfield rolling to his left and Westbrook well-covered, Mayfield planted his feet at midfield and delivered a precision pass, which a diving Westbrook hauled in before sliding out of the back of the end zone.

"I know it was a good catch, (but) I didn't get to see it," said Mayfield, who was hit just after releasing the ball. "I was on the ground, but typical Dede, making something out of nothing."

Defending on the play was KU cornerback Brandon Stewart. By the time both players had tumbled over, Stewart found himself face-to-face with Westbrook, who calmly dropped the ball then sheepishly shrugged with both palms pointed upward. The "how-did-he-catch-that?" gesture perfectly symbolized what had just transpired. All Stewart could do was shake his head and clap his hands.

The Mayfield-to-Westbrook combination has left plenty of people clapping lately.

The Sooners (6-2 overall, 5-0 Big 12) have a short week to prepare for their 6:30 p.m. contest Thursday at Iowa State (1-7, 0-5).