The stage was set for a legendary win Saturday night with No. 3 Ohio State, a record crowd and severe weather rolling into town for a game that had the potential to vault the Sooners back into the playoff picture.
Instead Oklahoma found itself living a nightmare as the Buckeyes (3-0) romped up and down the field for a 21-point win while the No. 14 Sooners (1-2) squandered every opportunity they had to stick around.
“It’s a huge missed opportunity,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “You talk about having the No. 3 team in the country coming into your house, playoff implications on the line … it was a missed opportunity to maybe bounce back and move forward.”
It was one of the most highly-anticipated home games of coach Bob Stoops’ 18-year tenure, and it was also a dud. A national television audience and a horde of highly-touted recruits watched as the Sooners’ national championship hopes were stomped, coming up short when they had the chance to prove they belonged in college football’s upper tier.
The Sooners managed just three points on two red zone trips in the first half, with kicker Austin Seibert setting the tone early by ramming a 27-yard kick into the right upright for no points on the game’s first possession.
Their second trip inside the 20 began when receiver A.D. Miller stumbled and fell at the Ohio State 3-yard line. Then Mayfield tried to buy time in the pocket and lost 13 yards in the process, turning first-and-goal at the three into second-and-goal at the 16.
“That’s another example of us. We need to stay on our feet — get four more points. We fall, and then Baker on first down doesn’t throw the ball away,” Stoops said. “So now you lose 15, 20 yards and you kick a field goal. That’s just us.”
Seibert was forced to kick again and made this one, cutting the lead to 21-10. The Sooners would never get closer than 11 points the rest of the night.
“It’s very frustrating. The fact that we have three to four drives in the red zone, and the first one we missed a field goal,” Mayfield said. “We could’ve capitalized on the drive and finished out the right way, and that just goes to show that we need to get better in the red zone. Last year, we were very successful in the red zone with scoring and finishing grabs, but we didn’t do that today.”
Those weren’t the only opportunities Oklahoma saw slip away. With the game still tied at zero, running back Joe Mixon dropped a second down pass that would have likely given the Sooners a first down. Then Oklahoma had Ohio State in a fourth-and-one situation, but running back Curtis Samuel scampered 36 yards for the game’s first score, with the Sooners’ defense seemingly confused pre-snap.
Mayfield, a preseason Heisman favorite, had his fair share of mistakes. He missed an open Mark Andrews on a third down before throwing a pick-six on the next play, giving the Buckeyes a 14-0 lead. Then he chose to force the ball down field to Jarvis Baxter instead of running for a first down, hitting Ohio State cornerback Marshon Lattimore in stride for an easy interception.
“I know right now that I need to play better,” Mayfield said. “Flat out, plain and simple. That is just how it’s going to be.”
The defense missed chances, too, as cornerbacks consistently failed to turn their heads and find passes in the air, allowing Ohio State receivers to pick up chunks of yards even when the defenders were well positioned.
“Each side failed each other,” Stoops said. “That can’t happen.”
With their ultimate goal extinguished, the Sooners will need to regroup and focus on winning the Big 12. Otherwise they risk repeating the struggles of 2014, when lofty expectations turned into a five-loss season after a rough start.
“Right now, maybe we’ll find our true identity,” Mayfield said.