DALLAS — Baker Mayfield had only been on campus a month, and he was a walk-on. Nobody was seeking him out. Nothing was expected. Some of his teammates didn’t even know his name yet. After a team karaoke night early in fall camp, every player on the team knew Baker Mayfield.
That’s what happens when the walk-on steals the show with his rendition of the Dougie, a dance popularized in the song “Teach Me How to Dougie,” by the Cali Swag District.
“I’m just going to be honest, I’d never seen a white kid do the Dougie. Like, at all,” linebacker Pete Robertson said. “When he did the Dougie, I’m just like, ‘Is he really doing this right now?’ He killed it.”
Nobody had ever seen a walk-on true freshman start a season opener for a major conference school, either. Friday night, he killed that, too, carrying the Red Raiders to a 41-23 win over SMU in new coach Kliff Kingsbury’s debut. Mayfield completed 43 of 60 passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns, adding another score on the ground.
Receiver Bradley Marquez played the role of critic and gave Mayfield’s dougie “a hard six or seven,” but Mayfield’s performance against the Mustangs on Friday night had to be at least an eight.
“He just went out there like he’d been there forever,” he said.
Marquez was talking about the Dougie, but he might as well have been talking about Mayfield’s beyond-his-years performance in his college debut.
Sure, there were a few fumbles (hey, he didn’t lose any of them!), and some miscues, but Kingsbury admitted that those are the hazards of calling 70 pass plays for a freshman. Early in the fourth quarter, his two running backs collided in the backfield for an embarrassing gaffe.
“That was completely his fault. He made up some check at the line that we don’t have,” Kingsbury said with a laugh.
A play later he broke loose for an 11-yard score to put Tech up, 27-16, removing the drama of the game’s final 10 minutes.
And about that whole “walk-on” thing? Mayfield won’t be one for long. Kingsbury said he earned a scholarship a while back, but for now, juggling the numbers to actually put him on scholarship is a little tricky.
“He had practiced like a senior for the last week and I expected him to play really well. I couldn’t be more impressed with the way he’s handled the operation, handling his teammates and happy he got to play as well as I thought he would,” Kingsbury said. “He didn’t look like a true freshman that got there in the second summer session and hadn’t had a spring ball yet.”
Tight end Jace Amaro guessed that Mayfield wasn’t even in Lubbock until around July 10. Friday night, he raced to celebrate touchdowns with receivers. He pumped his fists with every throw. He looked like almost every throw was the most important of his life. There’s a reason for that: It sort of was.
The game itself may have lacked magnitude, but being the quarterback at Texas Tech has proved a lucrative position in the past by Kingsbury himself and legends like Graham Harrell, marked by more than a few nights with 60 pass attempts careers with tens of thousands of yards. Mayfield played on Friday because Michael Brewer missed the last few weeks of camp with a reported stress fracture in his vertebrae. He might not be healthy until October, but the blue-chip recruit was long assumed as Seth Doege’s heir at quarterback in Lubbock. Suddenly, that assumption looks a lot less safe.
Asked how Kingsbury would handle his quarterbacks when Brewer returned to health, and if Brewer did enough in the spring and fall to regain his job, the head Red Raider didn’t do a lot more than shrug.
“That’s a tough question,” he said. “Michael was really good in the spring and had some good practices early, but we’ll just go from here, evaluate the tape and keep getting everybody reps.”
Mayfield threw for 6,255 yards at Lake Travis High School. A great game tonight might be the first step to passing that mark at Texas Tech sometime in the middle of 2014.
He looked a long way from Kingsbury’s last pupil, some guy named Johnny Manziel, but he was good. Good enough to get a win and, most importantly for him, keep Davis Webb chained to the bench. Mayfield hung a zero in the most important statistic of all: Turnovers. No one knows yet what will happen once Brewer is healthy, but the first half of Texas Tech’s schedule is begging for a 5-1 start. Maybe better. Mayfield didn’t do anything on Friday to prevent himself from being on the field for at least those games and made a strong case to stay on the field beyond them.
“It’s not too hard to learn, but it’s really difficult to operate,” Kingsbury said of his offense. “He had great coaches in high school at Lake Travis that prepared him for that moment, and you can tell that he was coached that way.”
Lake Travis coach Hank Carter is in an odd position these days, too. He coached both Mayfield and Brewer at Lake Travis.
“Nobody really gave (Mayfield) a chance. He’s dealt with that his whole life. He was a late bloomer here for us, and I think he thrives in the underdog role,” Carter told FOX Sports Southwest on Friday. “When I heard that Michael was injured, I knew Baker would have a chance to get in there because of how smart he is and how competitive he is. He may not be 6-foot-4, but he can throw that ball through a brick wall.”
There aren’t any questions about his arm, and Kingsbury cut him loose to make checks to the offense before the snap, which Amaro said Mayfield did often. Early in fall camp, Mayfield was working after practice with young players and earned time with the No. 2 offense. Success there demanded reps with the No. 1 offense, and Mayfield appeared to seize the job around two weeks ago.
Told he’d won the job, Mayfield’s response shouldn’t surprise anyone now.
“He just smiled and said, ‘Let’s do it,'” Kingsbury said.