As is likely to be the case for most of the season, the quarterbacks are once again the focus heading into the second week of the college football season. There are some big matchups on the docket, including a chance at redemption for one of the most highly-touted prospects of the 2018 NFL Draft class, USC’s Sam Darnold.
Darnold got off to a shaky start to the season, coming nowhere near the kind of performance you would expect from a presumed top 3 pick. Western Michigan is no slouch, but you would expect more than 289 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions for an “all-star” quarterback. Darnold gets his chance at redemption on Saturday against perennial Pac-12 North powerhouse Stanford. It will be “must-see TV”, but there’s one matchup this week that intrigues me even more.
The one that excites me most from a scouting perspective is watching Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma Sooners offense square off against the Ohio State Buckeyes defense. Last year’s Heisman Trophy finalist has already come out of the gates strong this season, throwing for 329 yards and 3 touchdowns in his season debut. More impressive, he went 19 for 20 in the game for an astonishing 95% completion percentage.
However, as most of us know, it’s about a lot more than just pure stats. If stats were the only thing that mattered, you’d never have any misses in the NFL Draft. The job would be easy. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Mayfield’s performance last weekend was seeing his development as a quarterback. For the first time since I’ve been watching him, he looked more like a quarterback than an athlete. He had patience in the pocket, he was reading the defense in front of him, and most importantly he was making NFL-caliber throws. That’s something I haven’t seen from him yet, and it certainly left an impression on me.
But all that came against UTEP. It’s easy to over-react to one game, especially when you don’t consider the level of competition that performance comes against. Mayfield is going to see an entirely different beast when he comes up against the Buckeyes’ vaunted defense. It’s easy to be patient and make the correct reads when you have the better athletes making your job easy. It’s something entirely different to do it against equal, if not better, competition. If Mayfield can come out strong on Saturday and show that the progress he’s made wasn’t just a one-game occurrence, he’ll find himself moving up my rankings.
Mayfield is going to have his work cut out for him, as he faces not only much stiffer competition, but also a squad that’s going to be angry. The Buckeyes entire team, but the defense especially, came out completely flat in their opener against Indiana. The Buckeyes defense was torched time and time again by Simmie Cobbs and Richard Lagow to the tune of 149 yards and a touchdown for Cobbs, and 410 yards and 3 touchdowns for Lagow. You can bet that Urban Meyer laid into them at halftime and during the week leading up to this game. I don’t expect a repeat performance.
While the Buckeyes almost assuredly aren’t going to come out as disappointing as they did last week, the question is “Do they have the talent to hold up with a high-flying Big 12 team?” This isn’t the Buckeyes defense many of us are used to. A lot of talent has been lost to the NFL over the years, and it’s a tall task to replace that talent year after year, although they’ve proved restocking isn’t difficult for them. There is quite a bit of talent left, but is it enough to slow down Mayfield? We’ll see on Saturday.