Los Angeles—I asked Mark Andrews, the tight end from Oklahoma, what advice he would give to a defensive coach charged with slowing down quarterback Baker Mayfield.
“Quit your job,” Andrews said with a smile.
Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is not going to take Andrews’s recommendation but he does understand the challenge facing his defense when they face the Heisman Trophy winner in Monday night’s Rose Bowl.
“He’s strong. He’s tough. And he can make all the throws,” Tucker said during Friday’s Rose Bowl media briefing. “He reminds me of (former Green Bay Packers quarterback) Brett Farve. You’re not going to stop him. But you do need to slow him down a little or he’ll run away from you and take control of the game.”
The numbers surrounding Mayfield and this Oklahoma offense are staggering.
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**--Oklahoma leads the nation in total offense per game (583.3 ypg)
**--The Sooners are No. 4 in scoring (44.9 ppg).
**--Mayfield is No. 4 in the nation in passing (333.8 ypg) but leads the nation in completion percentage at 71 percent. No other quarterback in the FBS is above 70 percent.
**--Oklahoma averages an astounding 8.44 yards per play, which easily leads the nation. The second place team, UCF, is almost a full yard behind at 7.6.
“The problem with going against a player like Baker is that is that he makes plays with his arms and his legs,” said Georgia linebacker Lorenzo Carter. “This is one of those situations where you’ve got to trust the coaches. You’ve got to trust the game plan.”
Here is the big issue as the Georgia coaches are preparing the defense to face Mayfield. If all the Oklahoma quarterback did was drop back and sling it, then the game plan would be pretty basic. With Carter and Davin Bellamy, the Bulldogs can bring more than enough pressure from the outside.
But the problem comes when Mayfield is forced is step up into the pocket and looks as though he is going to run up the middle. He has an incredible knack of stopping just before the line of scrimmage and finding a receiver who has just come open for a considerable gain down the field.
“When Baker scrambles he’s not doing it to run. He’s doing it to pass,” said Tucker. “So everybody has to stay with their receivers until they see him pass the line of scrimmage. If not, he’ll make the big play.”
And here, it seems, is where Roquan Smith, Georgia’s Butkus Award linebacker, comes in.
It is way too simplistic, said head coach Kirby Smart, to suggest that Smith will serve as a “spy” on Mayfield on every play. A spy is a defender who is dedicated to the quarterback no matter where he goes.
“Roquan is a tremendous asset for us but he’s not assigned to a player. He’s assigned to a gap,” said Kirby Smart, the Georgia head coach. “Roquan has to play within our system.”
But don’t be surprised if Georgia’s system has Smith in the vicinity of Mayfield when he tries to run. Because one of the things that gives defenders fits is Mayfield’s ability to break tackles and extend plays long enough to find an open receiver.
“You’re not going to contain this guy the whole game,” said Smart. “He’s going to escape when he wants to escape. The key is that when you flush him out of the pocket that you’ve got somebody out there who is athletic enough to get him on the ground.”
That would be Smith, who leads the team in tackles (113) and solo tackles (72). He also is the owner of this impressive stat: He did not miss a tackle on a running play this season. The point: If Smith is in the vicinity of Baker Mayfield when he’s scrambling, it’s a pretty good bet that the Georgia linebacker can get him to the ground.
“It’s going to definitely be a challenge for our defense,” said Smith who, ironically, verbally committed to UCLA (which plays its home games at the Rose Bowl) before signing with Georgia in 2015. “He’s a phenomenal athlete. A lot of things stand out. He can just take over a game.”
Mayfield, however, is a little under the weather and did not meet with the media as scheduled on Friday. Reports said that Mayfield was fighting a cold and had lost his voice. There is no reason, however, to think that he won’t be ready to go for Monday’s 5 p.m. ET kickoff.
Now, of course, the best way to defend Baker Mayfield is to keep him standing on the Oklahoma sideline while Georgia eats up the clock with its physical running game.
Consider this: In 12 of 13 games this season Oklahoma had 11 possessions or more. In the 62-52 win over Oklahoma State the Sooners had an incredible 16 possessions. The only time Oklahoma failed to get 11 possessions in a game was its only loss—38-31 to Iowa State. In that game the Sooners got only 10 possessions.
Georgia, which runs the ball 70 percent of the time, is second in the SEC in time of possession (33:42.77). Hold the ball that long against the Sooners and limit Mayfield’s possessions to 11 or fewer, and the Bulldogs will have a pretty good chance of going to Atlanta for the CFP national championship.