With a limited recruiting base, the Oklahoma Sooners have always relied on talent flowing north of the Red River to beat the Texas Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl. On Saturday, it was players from right in the Longhorns backyard who did the greatest damage offensively.
Of the three Sooners offensive stars, it was quarterback Baker Mayfield who waited the longest to finally beat the Longhorns after losing two previous match ups dating back to his freshman season as a walk on for the Texas Tech Red Raiders in 2013.
"It's special to me. Very special," Mayfield said. "I've been waiting a long time to actually come away with a win against these guys."
In setting a Red River Showdown record with 390 passing yards, Mayfield didn’t just get revenge for the two previous losses, he exacted his vengeance on Texas for passing him up during the recruiting process.
Now, former head coach Mack Brown has received extensive criticism for missing on numerous successful college quarterbacks late in his tenure at Texas, but he was hardly the only one who missed on Mayfield, who received only three FBS scholarship offers out of state power Lake Travis.
“Boy, all of us made a huge mistake,” Brown said in 2015. “He's just a super player and probably as much for his spirit, his team leadership, his toughness. Just what he brings off the field really enhances his ability to run and make plays on the field.”
Even Texas Tech wasn’t willing to offer Mayfield a scholarship. The quarterback has also had a long-standing, public feud with TCU Horned Frogs head coach because Mayfield believes that Patterson promised a scholarship offer that never came.
In a long line of successful Lake Travis quarterbacks, Mayfield’s bona fides were as good as any of his predecessors — he went 25-2 as the starting quarterback, massing 6,255 yards and 67 touchdowns in addition to winning the 4A state championship in 2011 after an undefeated season.
Tagged with the system label and downgraded as a prospect due the fact that he’s listed at 6’1 but is several inches shorter, Mayfield was a consensus low three-star prospect and barely ranked among the top 1,000 recruits nationally in the 247Sports Composite rankings.
Mayfield’s father, James, reached out to Texas through former assistant coach Hardee McCrary, whose son Crade walked on for the Longhorns and played at Lake Travis himself, but since there wasn’t any interest from the ‘Horns and Mayfield grew up a Sooners fan, he wasn’t too upset about not receiving a preferred walk-on spot in Austin.
Mayfield just wanted to beat the Longhorns because that’s what every lifelong Sooners fan wants.
Three touchdown passes to wide receiver Dede Westbrook sent Mayfield running down the field in celebration, a typically demonstrative display by the polarizing passer, who still plays with a chip on his shoulder the size of Texas itself.
His favored target was Westbrook, the 5’11, 175-pound wide receiver from Blinn College by way of Cameron Yoe torched the ‘Horns on his way to a school-record 232 receiving yards, including a crushing 71-yard touchdown catch just before halftime.
Hardly an unknown out of Blinn, Westbrook was the consensus No. 3 wide receiver in the junior college ranks in the 2015 class, ranking No. 14 overall, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
In the 2015 class, Texas took four wide receivers, but never seriously considered Westbrook. Of those four wide receivers, one never made it to Texas and two decided to leave the school before their sophomore seasons, leaving only slumping John Burt.
Junior running back Samaje Perine played with former Longhorns wide receiver Daje Johnson at Pflugerville Hendrickson, but saw his recruitment take a hit when he suffered ACL and MCL injuries at the end of his sophomore season.
An Alabama native, Perine battled back as the Sooners build a relationship with him and convinced him to come to Norman with the enticement of early playing time. Texas never offered, and the powerful back always knew he wanted to leave the state to play his college football.
On Saturday, Perine ran for 214 yards and two touchdowns on 35 carries, a physical and dominant performance in which he seemed to get stronger as the game went on. In a game often won by the more physical team in the trenches, the 5’10, 235-pounder was too much for the Texas defense.
In that regard, the Longhorns are in a unique position in college football — serving as the flagship university for arguably the nation’s top talent-producing state only increases the pressure to never make any mistakes, lest those spurned players exact revenge on the field.
It’s a storyline for nearly every game against virtually all Big 12 schools and any programs that extensively recruit in Texas.
This isn’t another hysterical screed about how the ‘Horns keep making mistakes in recruiting — merely an expression of the added pain that comes from seeing Texas lose to the invaders from north of the Red Rivers with players who all played high school football within 75 miles of campus.