No Place Like the Road for Mayfield, Sooners
Perhaps no football player feels more at home while playing on the road than Oklahoma senior quarterback Baker Mayfield. Teams hoping to beat the Heisman Trophy favorite on their home field are now all out of chances.
A 41-3 victory at Kansas on Saturday not only clinched a spot for the Sooners in the Big 12 Championship Game on Dec. 2 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, it also meant Mayfield finished his OU career with a 14-0 mark in true road games and a 12-0 record in Big 12 road contests.
First-year head coach Lincoln Riley became the Sooners' offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach in 2015, the same year Mayfield returned to the field after transferring from Texas Tech. This means Riley also is 14-0 in true road games and 12-0 in Big 12 road games at OU, as is every third-year player on the roster.
Odd as it sounds, playing on the road fit perfectly into Mayfield's wheelhouse. His attitude, confidence and determination seemed equally as heightened on the road as they are inside the friendly confines of Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.
"I've had a mindset that's perfect for going on the road and I think I've been able to kind of help out other guys on the team," Mayfield said prior to his final conference road game. "When those fans start chirping, you want to shut them up or come right back and talk to them."
Every time they hit the road in conference play, Mayfield and Sooners extend their historical success in the Big 12.
Against the Jayhawks, Mayfield completed 20 of 30 passes for 257 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, marking the 15th time he has thrown at least three TD passes without a pickoff. Mayfield set a Big 12 record with his 37th straight game (every game of his OU career) with at least one touchdown pass. He also extended his record of at least two touchdown passes to 24 straight games, which is believed to be the second-longest streak in FBS history.
"It's about bragging rights on the road," Mayfield said. "It's about going into someone else's house and winning. It really is just you and your team on the sidelines."
The more hostile the crowd, the more Mayfield embraces the atmosphere.
"The more they yell, the better it is for us, honestly. He feeds off that stuff. He really does."
- Lincoln Riley
"When you go on the road, there's always people who buy seats behind the visitors' bench for certain reasons," Mayfield said. "They want to chatter back and forth. I love that. They take it personal and try and get under our skin."
Asked which Big 12 road trips ranked as his favorites, Mayfield smiled and said, "Whenever you go to Stillwater there's always someone there chirping. West Virginia's always a fun place to go play. They always bring their 'A' game there."
Riley said preparation during the week of a road game doesn't seem particularly more focused or intense than it is for a home game, and he credits his team's pre-existing mentality under coach Bob Stoops.
"I don't really feel anything different during the week, but I always feel we have always embraced playing on the road," Riley said. "Going on the road is something you just have to handle as something you're up against. I've always been wired that way and I know he (Mayfield) certainly is."
Riley chuckled at the notion it appears Mayfield was born to play in hostile territory. "The more they yell, the better it is for us, honestly," Riley said. "He feeds off that stuff. He really does. (Mayfield embraces) the challenge of going into someone else's place and playing as well as you can."
Saying you love to play on the road is one thing, but the proof is in the performance.
"We talk beforehand about the mentality we want going into those environments," Riley said. "You can talk about it all you want, but it's still about the guys believing. And when your leaders feel that way, the rest of the team tends to follow suit."
The Sooners have now won 16 straight true road games, the nation's longest active streak and the second-longest in OU history. The Sooners' 14 straight Big 12 road wins also is a conference record. OU's last true road loss came more than three years ago with a 37-33 setback at TCU on Oct. 4, 2014.
During the 16-game streak, the Sooners have outscored opponents 784-436 (49-27 average) and outgained them 8,798 total yards to 6,456 (579-413 average). Seven of the 16 wins have come against AP Top 25 teams.
OU has won 23 of its last 24 conference games dating back to the 2015 season. Its lone loss came Oct. 7 at home against Iowa State this season.
The Sooners also have now won 13 straight against the Jayhawks, including seven straight in Lawrence. Each of those 13 victories have been by at least 15 points. OU's last loss at KU came in 1997 in the Big 12's second year of existence.
The Sooners are finished playing true road games this season. They close the regular season at home Saturday against West Virginia. Then come neutral site contests at the Big 12 title game and potentially two postseason games in the College Football Playoff with a shot at the program's eighth national title.