NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield had little room for improvement after his dynamic junior season, yet he has continued to blossom.
Mayfield set an NCAA record for passing efficiency in a season last year on his way to being a Heisman Trophy finalist, and his numbers are much better this season. His efficiency has helped the Sooners win an FBS-best 14 straight games. Mayfield looks to keep the momentum going Saturday when the third-ranked Sooners host Iowa State.
“He’s settled in,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. “He’s playing well. He’s in sync with our guys. We’ve made a lot of plays around him. We haven’t put balls on the ground. We’re protecting well. Guys have made some competitive plays in the receiving game. That’s a big part of it, too.”
Riley said Mayfield has done a good job of reining in his natural urge to take risks. His mastery has helped the Sooners move up to No. 1 nationally in total offense.
“That’s one of the things that we spend a lot of time talking about — when we are going to take the chances, making sure that they are calculated and making sure they make sense schematically and they are the right time in the game for it,” Riley said. ‘I think his understanding of when we want to take those has gotten stronger as the years have went on.”
Things got tougher for Iowa State when the Cyclones announced Friday night that quarterback Jacob Park will be taking a leave from the team because of personal medical concerns. Park has completed 62 percent of his passes and has nine touchdown passes and five interceptions. Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said he is not certain of a timeline for Park’s return, noting that he cannot discuss medical issues.
“We are committed to helping him cope, supporting him on all levels and helping him prepare to get back on the playing field with his teammates as soon as possible,” Campbell said in a statement.
Here are some things to watch Saturday.
OU RUNNING BACKS
Oklahoma’s Abdul Adams and Trey Sermon have emerged as threats in Oklahoma’s No. 1-ranked offense. They combined for 312 yards rushing and three touchdowns in a win over Baylor two weeks ago and have emerged as the leaders in a group of running backs that includes Marcelias Sutton and Rodney Anderson. Mayfield said the diverse group of backs makes Oklahoma difficult to defend.
“I think it’s great for us, having a little mix-up here and there,” he said. “I think we have the explosive guys, and we also have the power runners as well, so we kind of have it all in that room right now.”
Iowa State’s middle linebacker, a converted quarterback, had 20 tackles against Texas last week and ranks second in the Big 12 with 11.5 tackles per game.
“So much credit for that goes to Joel, and his ability to adapt to those fits and play at the level that he’s playing,” Campbell said. “Joel is really talented.”
Riley said senior defensive tackle Matt Romar will be a game-time decision. He sat out against Baylor with an undisclosed injury. Romar, a senior, has 15 career starts. He only just one tackle this season, but he is a critical part of Oklahoma’s run defense, and there is a noticeable difference when he is out of the lineup.
Last season against Iowa State, fullback Dimitri Flowers switched to running back and gained 115 yards on 22 carries and caught three passes for 34 yards and a touchdown to help the Sooners beat the Cyclones 34-24 . Riley, Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator at the time, said he knew Flowers could run because he had done it well in practice. Still, he had never carried in a game before that night.
“To see a guy step out on that stage with limited reps and rush for 100 yards and have a couple big catches, it was certainly impressive,” Riley said.
The Sooners have won 18 straight against the Cyclones and haven’t lost to them since 1990. Flowers said the Sooners have taken pride the past few years in handling teams they are heavily favored against.
“I think it goes back to the singular focus,” Flowers said. “There’s a lot of times where those games will come up and you’ll see teams falter. But we try to make it our goal to not do that. In order to be the best in country you have to win every game, and we have to take every opponent seriously.”
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .