NORMAN, Okla. — Oklahoma tight end Mark Andrews’ mere presence on the field is creating problems for the opponent.
At 6-foot-5 and 254 pounds, the two-time All-Big 12 selection is coming off career highs of seven catches and 134 yards in last Saturday’s 56-7 win over Texas-El Paso . He’ll need to be productive again on Saturday when the fifth-ranked Sooners travel to No. 2 Ohio State.
“We just need to keep getting him the ball,” Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “He’s going to make competitive plays, and obviously you want the football in his hands after the catch.”
Andrews’ touchdown against the Miners gave him 15 in 27 career games. His emergence is critical now that last year’s Biletnikoff Award winner, Dede Westbrook, is with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Oklahoma also lost running back Joe Mixon, the team’s No. 2 receiver last season, and Geno Lewis, who was third on the team in receptions and fourth in yards last season.
“With that type of lost production, there’s going to be a lot of things that have to make up for that,” Andrews said. “I’m definitely a guy that can do that. I’m looking forward to doing that.”
UTEP coach Sean Kugler knew what was coming. He noticed Andrews’ 16.3-yard average per catch and his blocking skills, among other things.
“I think they’re got one of the best tight ends in the country in Mark Andrews,” Kugler said. “This guy is a great route runner, but he’s a complete tight end, and those are rare to find nowadays.”
Andrews and Mayfield have been connecting since 2014, when they were on scout team together. Andrews believes that experience can make him a key target, like Westbrook last year and Sterling Shepard the year before.
“It’s a long time to play with a quarterback, so I definitely feel like we have that chemistry to be able to do that,” he said. “I’m kind of his blanket when he needs me. Just to be able to be that guy in go-to situations, I think I could definitely step up.”
Mayfield certainly was a believer after the opener. Five of Andrews’ catches went for first downs, including a 45-yard gain on a third-and-8 in the second quarter. Another went for a 5-yard touchdown.
“Big-time guys have to make plays when it counts,” Mayfield said. “So if that’s third downs and it’s in the red zone, that’s when you need your guys the most in those critical situations. That’s something we emphasized in camp as well: We’ve got to make plays when — (offensive lineman) Orlando Brown calls them the money downs. You’ve got to make plays when it’s those, and Mark did that today.”
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley won’t put number goals on what Andrews can do. He made it clear that expectations are high.
“What would a good year be? I don’t know that you can define that, but we expect him to be very productive, a matchup we can really exploit,” Riley said.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .