Much has been said about Baker Mayfield's start to the season, and deservedly so. Oklahoma's junior quarterback has completed 67.3% of his passes for 1,062 yards and 10 touchdowns while helping lead the Sooners to a 3-0 record heading into this weekend's bye. However, there aren't a lot of folks talking about receiver Sterling Shepard for some reason.
Lost is the shuffle of "Mayfield Mania" is the fact that Shepard has been Oklahoma's most reliable pass catcher for the last two seasons and 2015 is proving to be no exception either. A total of eleven different players have caught passes for the Sooners this season and Shepard leads that group with 18 receptions for 286 yards and two scores. Oklahoma's receiving corps was boosted in the off-season, thanks in part to JUCO transfers Dede Westbrook and Jarvis Baxter, but Sterling Shepard remains the go-to guy.
Averaging 15.9 yards per reception, Shepard plays to Mayfield's strength and vice versa. Baker Mayfield has shown the ability to keep plays alive by scrambling while also keeping his eyes downfield. It's impossible to explain how important this is for a quarterback. Most signal callers go into "survival mode" when forced from the pocket, meaning they focus on the pass rush more that they do the guys downfield. Mayfield is a polar opposite of that. He eludes the rush and keeps the play alive by keeping an eye on his receivers and the defensive secondary. Look at this play from the Tennessee game as a prime example.
Mayfield "feels" the pressure coming from his left and rolls to his right. Once a quarterback scrambles, the defense naturally breaks down because linebackers suddenly have to worry about the threat of a run and the secondary gets caught looking in the backfield. This is where Sterling Shepard thrives! He's able to come back to the ball and make a fantastic catch on the sideline. It wasn't just this play though. The two had a very similar play against Tulsa and the duo seems to be clicking when it comes to improvising.
It's not just those type of plays that make them a terrific combo. Every clutch quarterback needs a clutch receiver. Jason White had Mark Clayton, Sam Bradfor had Ryan Broyles, and Landry Jones had Kenny Stills. Baker Mayfield would go on to connect with Shepard for the game-tying touchdown in regulation and the game winning score in the second overtime, and it doesn't get more clutch than that.
Quarterbacks and receivers need chemistry to become a great tandem and Shepard and Mayfield seem to have just that. The ability to "improvise" effectively when a play breaks down is something that can't be coached, either you have it or you don't. It's what makes the duo of Baker Mayfield and Sterling Shepard a perfect combination.