Mayfield-to-Westbrook is the strongest QB-WR connection in college football

Bryson Vesnaver highlights three plays that show why.

| 2 months ago
(Photo by Joshua Gateley/Getty Images)

(Photo by Joshua Gateley/Getty Images)

Mayfield-to-Westbrook is the strongest QB-WR connection in college football


Early on in the season, the Oklahoma Sooners’ offense looked nothing like what everyone expected. Quarterback Baker Mayfield was constantly under siege, being forced to hold onto the ball longer because his receivers couldn’t gain separation. No. 1 wide receiver Dede Westbrook — the player that was supposed to fill the Sterling Shepard role in the offense — was dealing with an injury that slowed him down considerably. Through the first three games Westbrook had just 17 catches on 25 targets for 154 yards and no touchdowns.

But then the Sooners had their bye week, and everything changed. Westbrook got healthy, and since then he’s looked every bit as good as Shepard and possibly even better. The Mayfield-to-Westbrook connection over the past four weeks has been the best QB-to-WR tandem in college football, and it’s not particularly close. In those four games, “Maybrook” has gone 35-of-40 for 776 yards and 10 touchdowns with no interceptions (Westbrook also caught a 26-yard touchdown pass from RB Joe Mixon). It’s no surprise that since the bye week, the Sooners are 4-0 and averaging more than 50 points per game.

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Below we’ll take a look at three plays of these two connecting that highlight why they’ve been so dangerous over the past four weeks:

  1. The timing routes

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In the above clip, we see just how in sync these two are with their play. Mayfield knows exactly where he’s going with his throw here before he even takes the snap. Kansas State corner Duke Shelley is playing six yards off the line of scrimmage, clearly wanting to keep his distance to prevent any deep pass. It’s obvious that Mayfield and Westbrook can get whatever they want on this play with just a simple hitch route, but they decide — whether by play call or audible — to go with the ten-yard out and pick up the first down right away. This is one of the hardest routes to run perfectly both by the quarterback and receiver. The receiver has to make the corner believe that he’s going deep, and has to cut on a dime. If he slows down to break out, the corner will read this and have a chance to make a break on the route. For the quarterback, if he throws it too early, the receiver won’t see it in time. Throw it too late, and there’s no more room on the sideline. But both Mayfield and Westbrook run this perfectly.

Mayfield gets the snap and gets set as quickly as possible. He wastes no time and throws the ball before Westbrook has even reached the top of his route. All in all from snap to release, a mere 1.7 seconds have passed, which makes it extremely hard to get any kind of pressure to affect the throw. As for Westbrook, he runs straight downfield and seems to not even slow down at all before he breaks outside. He makes his cut and the ball is there almost instantly. He can easily locate it because he knows that it’s going to be there.

This is the kind of connection that Mayfield had with Shepard last year. The quick timing routes that both quarterback and receiver have to be in perfect synchronization to connect with. There have been plenty of plays like this from these two in the past four games, and that’s the biggest reason that Mayfield and Westbrook have been so successful.

  1. The quick-feet play

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This is a beautiful slant-and-go touchdown by Westbrook and Mayfield that was a pretty big moment in the game for the Sooners. The Texas Longhorns had just scored a touchdown to open the half and were ahead 20-14 early in the third quarter. This touchdown put Oklahoma right back in the lead, and gave them some much-needed momentum to keep pace with a Texas offense that was moving the ball.

For Mayfield on this play, he’s essentially once again decided that he’s going to Westbrook on this play. Texas is playing a single-high safety, and with Westbrook being on the wide side of the field, he’s basically in one-on-one coverage as there’s very little chance that the safety can get over in time to help over the top (as you can see, he doesn’t). So Mayfield takes the snap, runs a play-action fake to buy him some time to let the play develop, and then releases a bomb before any pressure can affect his throw. The throw hits Westbrook perfectly in stride, over-the-shoulder, and right in the gap between both Texas defenders which allows Westbrook to easily run in for the touchdown. The throw here is as perfect as can be, but its great work by the Sooners to take advantage of the coverage and trust that Westbrook can beat his man.

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Speaking of Westbrook beating his man, this second angle shows exactly how he does it. As stated earlier, the biggest reason Westbrook has been so effective is his ability to get open on the quick routes like slants, ins and outs. Texas corner Holton Hill knows this, and as soon as he sees Westbrook break inside, he goes to break with him because that’s a route that Westbrook runs so well so often. But that’s exactly what Westbrook wants in this case, as he immediately plants his foot and breaks back outside on the go route. Westbrook’s feet are just so quick that there’s almost nothing that Hill can do to recover, as Westbrook loses almost no speed on hi cut and just runs right past Hill. He tracks the ball down, makes a great over-the-shoulder catch so that he doesn’t lose any speed, and easily gets in for six. The fact that he can make these moves makes him that much more dangerous, because now as a corner you don’t want to play too far off and give up those slants, but you also don’t want to get beat deep like this. So no matter what you do, Westbrook has a way to beat you, and Mayfield knows this.

  1. The scheme plays

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Every once in a while an offense needs to scheme a way to get a receiver open. Teams know that Westbrook is the main weapon of this Sooners passing offense, and they are going to try to take that away. Usually that’s with double teams, safety help over the top, etc. But they want to force Oklahoma to use other receivers to beat them, and Oklahoma will need to get creative to get Westbrook the ball, which is exactly what they do in the above play.

The Sooners were having huge success running the football against Texas. By the end of the game, Oklahoma had rushed for 295 yards on 54 carries and three touchdowns. So it was clear to Texas that they needed to stop the run. Oklahoma used that against them with the flea flicker. It’s not super easy to see on the first angle, but TCU corner Ranthony Texada is matched up with Westbrook at the top of the screen, with safety Nick Orr playing over the top. It would be pretty hard to hit a deep throw with the two of them in coverage. But watch as soon as Mixon is handed the ball by Mayfield. Both players, especially Orr, stop in their tracks and prepare for the run. That’s when Westbrook blows by them. By the time Mayfield gets the ball back, Westbrook is 10 yards behind Orr running at full speed. Mayfield makes a perfect throw that hits Westbrook in stride so he doesn’t have to slow down, and he can walk into the endzone.

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This angle shows exactly why it worked so well. From the angles of Texada and Orr, it’s hard for them to see Mixon behind the line of scrimmage, but they know he has the ball. What makes it even better is Westbrook completely selling the run by slowing down and preparing to block Orr. But as soon as he sees Orr’s eyes on the backfield, he just takes it to top gear and ends up with one of the easier touchdowns he’ll ever score. It was a perfectly designed play run at the perfect time, and Mayfield and Westbrook executed it to absolute perfection. These are plays that every team has to do at times to generate production for their star players, and the Sooners have shown that they can do that with Westbrook.

These plays are just a few examples of what makes this connection so great, but they do a great job of showing the diversity that Oklahoma has with the Maybrook connection. Westbrook can run all the routes, Mayfield can make all the passes, and aside from injuries, there’s no reason that these two shouldn’t continue to find success for the rest of the season.

 

| Analyst

Bryson has been an analyst at Pro Football Focus since 2014, and has also been a contributor to 120 Sports.

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