DALLAS — Baker Mayfield didn’t attract the attention most Texas Tech freshmen football players receive, nor did he have as much preparation time.
But he’s achieved the unthinkable in less than eight weeks.
Mayfield, a walk-on who didn’t arrive on campus until the second summer-school session in mid-July, completed a Tech debut record 43 of 60 passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns in Friday’s season-opening 41-23 victory at SMU.
Amazing, given where he started.
Mayfield’s ascent began in 7-on-7 sessions for young players “after practice, after the real practice,” Kliff Kingsbury said. And it didn’t take the Tech coach long to be reminded how Mayfield led Lake Travis to a perfect season and a state championship two years ago.
“Really, that first young guy’s 7 on 7,” Kingsbury said. “He’s completing it to these guys and going up and down the field. And I thought, ‘Wow, he’s even better than I thought.’”
Then he got snaps with the second team, then the first team, then the starting job for the season opener, where he looked as fearless as he had in practice. Kingsbury said he didn’t go in with a game plan for Mayfield to throw 60 passes on opening night.
“They did a great job stuffing the run and we’ve got talented backs we want to get the ball more, but it wasn’t working,” Kingsbury said. “So we knew we could put it on his shoulders and have great playmakers outside, and Baker did a good job of getting it to them.”
Mayfield’s numbers could have been even better, but he had a few dropped passes. They could have been worse, too, because he was lucky to have no turnovers. Mayfield fumbled twice and was sacked four times, hit hard enough on one to come up vigorously shaking his head.
The Mustangs broke up seven passes, tipping two or three up for grabs.
“He was living right on some of those,” Kingsbury said. “Just dropped some snaps. That can’t happen. We’ve got to clean that up. Get rid of the ball when it’s not there and don’t force it. If you’re going to call 70 passes for a true freshman, that’s going to happen, but he kept fighting and found a way.”
Senior wide receiver Eric Ward helped in a big way with 13 catches for 150 yards. Mayfield, who’s listed at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, helped himself several other times by slinging passes through tight windows.
“He’ll do that,” Kingsbury said. “He can rip it. He’s got a really strong arm. It can be a little too strong sometimes. He’s got to learn some touch on a couple of those throws, but he keeps attacking. That’s what’s fun about him.”
With the game tied at 6 late in the first half, Mayfield hit inside receiver Jordan Davis over the middle, and Davis turned it into a 33-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Then came a 10-yard scoring pass to Bradley Marquez in the third quarter and Mayfield dashing 11 yards for a touchdown and a 27-16 lead with 10:05 left in the game.
Late in the game, Jakeem Grant ran a short flag route to catch a 3-yard touchdown pass, and then Mayfield threw a 22-yard touchdown pass on which flanker Reginald Davis made a tackle-dodging, cross-field run.
Kingsbury said he never considered inserting Davis Webb, the quarterback with whom Mayfield battled for the job in training camp.
Kingsbury said that was less a reflection on Webb and “more philosophy. It’s just what I believe in.”
“He did some good things early,” Kingsbury said of Mayfield, “and I thought he got better and better as the game went on.”
Sophomore Michael Brewer — like Mayfield a former state-champion quarterback at Lake Travis — was the favorite to win the job after last season. Brewer’s been out with a back injury since early August. On Saturday, the Austin American-Statesman reported that Brewer will see a back specialist on Sept. 9 in Dallas to see if he can start practicing again.
Kingsbury said he’s not sure what happens when Brewer gets back in the mix.
“It’s a tough question,” Kingsbury said, “because Davis is a guy who we feel we can win with as well. He stepped right back in (after spring practice), had a great camp and those guys aren’t normal, true-freshmen type kids. Both of them can win ball games. And Michael was really good in the spring, had some good practices early. We’ll just go from here, evaluate the tape and keep getting everybody reps.”
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