Opportunity has knocked unexpectedly for Oklahoma’s stable of talented running backs.
The Sooners lost star Rodney Anderson for the season to a right knee injury against UCLA over the weekend. Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said Anderson might have been the nation’s best player the second half of last season — even better than Heisman-winning teammate Baker Mayfield.
The fifth-ranked Sooners still boast quality depth at running back heading into this Saturday’s game at Iowa State. Trey Sermon, Marcelias Sutton, Kennedy Brooks and T.J. Pledger are ready to fill the void.
“I mean, this is the University of Oklahoma,” quarterback Kyler Murray said. “We have to reload. Next man has to step up. I believe we’ve got the players to do that. It’s obviously tough losing him (Anderson), but we’ve got guys that can step up.”
Sermon and Sutton are the top two backs in the rotation. Sermon started three games last season as a freshman and ran for 744 yards. He ran 12 times for 148 yards and two touchdowns against Baylor and had three other games with at least 80 yards rushing. The 6-foot, 224-pound bruiser is capable of being a workhorse — he had 20 carries in a win over Texas last season.
Sutton, a senior, ran for 130 yards last season and has 71 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries this season.
“Even before the injury, I didn’t feel different when Rodney was in there opposed to Trey Sermon or Marcelias,” Riley said.
Pledger, a true freshman and top recruit, has rushed for 83 yards on 14 carries this season. Brooks, a redshirt freshman, was rated a four-star recruit by Rivals, ESPN and Scout two years ago. He has 51 yards and a touchdown on four carries this season.
“They’ve done great jobs since I’ve been here,” Murray said. “They’ll step up. Things should be good for them.”
Though Sermon, Pledger and Brooks are young, the Sooners have a history of making stars out of young running backs. In 2014, Samaje Perine ascended after Keith Ford was injured. He ran for 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns as a freshman, including an FBS-record 427 yards against Kansas. The next year, Joe Mixon stepped in as a redshirt freshman and gained 1,109 yards from scrimmage. Last season, Anderson only started the final seven games of his sophomore campaign, yet he finished with 1,161 yards rushing and 281 yards receiving and scored 18 touchdowns.
The Sooners might have the next young breakthrough star — or stars — in their midst.
“Certainly when you lose a great player, everybody has to step their game up a little bit, no question,” Riley said. “You are going to have to have different guys step up and make those plays. But I know our guys will. I think our whole offense feels that. We hate it for Rodney, but our expectations aren’t any different.”
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