It’s TCU versus Oklahoma, not Gary Patterson versus Baker Mayfield.
But coach versus quarterback is the matchup most likely to decide Saturday’s Big 12 meeting between the Horned Frogs and Sooners in Norman, and the one that made headlines in 2015 in Miami and 2016 in Fort Worth.
Two years ago, at the national semifinals at the Orange Bowl, Mayfield told reporters TCU was the school that most disappointed him in recruiting, dangling a scholarship offer that never came. Patterson defended himself from the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, where TCU was relegated after falling short in a comeback attempt in Norman after Mayfield suffered a concussion and couldn’t finish the game.
“If Baker Mayfield wants to blame TCU for 128 BCS schools not offering him a scholarship, that’s fine,” Patterson said at the time.
Last year, after watching Mayfield — whose father was critical of Patterson and TCU in an ESPN The Magazine article that August — throw for two touchdowns and run for two touchdowns in a 52-46 victory in Fort Worth aided by a controversial call in the fourth quarter, Patterson said: “We talk about sportsmanship in this game. Their quarterback writes a whole article about me, how I treated him wrong. And I can’t talk to the officials?”
Four years ago, Mayfield quarterbacked Texas Tech against a ranked TCU team in Lubbock. He got sacked four times and intercepted three times by Patterson’s defense, but won 20-10.
It all sets the stage for a juicy third rematch between the coach and quarterback Saturday night in a game for the Big 12 lead that will also keep the winner alive for the College Football Playoff (and the loser probably out of luck).
But neither Mayfield nor Patterson threw a log on the fire this time.
In Norman on Monday, Mayfield told reporters of Patterson: “He’s one of the best defensive minds in the game. Coach Patterson has had that defense ready to play us every year.”
Tuesday at TCU, Patterson said of Mayfield: “I’ve always liked him and admired the way he competes. You’ve got to love a guy who’s a competitor. He’s one of those guys, if you’re playing against him, you probably don’t like him. But if you like competitors, you’ve got to admire the things he’s been able to do.”
Mayfield has been able to do a lot. He leads the country’s No. 1 offense and is the Heisman Trophy front-runner. He’s top-three in the country in completion percentage, passing efficiency, touchdown throws and passing yards. In or out of the pocket, he is a wizard.
“He can bring the crowd into a lot of games,” TCU safety Niko Small said. “That helps him, especially at home. I just admire his talent.”
In three games against TCU, Mayfield is 53-for-90 passing for 617 yards, three interceptions, five touchdowns and eight sacks. He’s rushed 34 times for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
“He’s like a running back, a little bit, in the backfield,” Patterson said. “He can take off on you quickly, and he’s hard for you to bring down. One guy doesn’t necessarily make the tackle.”
But as good as Mayfield is as a quarterback, so is Patterson as a defensive coach. He will take to Norman a defense ranked No. 6 in the country, No. 1 against the run, No. 3 in the red zone and No. 6 in scoring that has already faced and defeated high-powered quarterbacks Ben Hicks of SMU, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph and West Virginia’s Will Grier. It’s a unit backed by an offense that leads the Big 12 in time of possession and third-down conversions.
“Coach P’s going to come up with a good game plan,” Small said.
Plainly put, it’s strength versus strength.
The Big 12’s best defense versus the Big 12’s best offense.
Patterson vs. Mayfield.
No. 6 TCU at No. 5 Oklahoma
7 p.m. Saturday, KDFW/Ch. 4