NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma has pieced together a solid running game in Rodney Anderson’s absence.
Anderson, one of the nation’s best running backs the second half of last season, suffered a season-ending knee injury against UCLA. In the three games since, the seventh-ranked Sooners have averaged 178.7 yards rushing per game and 5.6 yards per carry. It’s not quite the dominance the Sooners became accustomed to in recent years when Anderson, Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon seemingly plowed through opponents at will.
It has been enough to provide balance for quarterback Kyler Murray and keep Oklahoma’s offense among the nation’s most productive heading into Saturday’s game against No. 19 Texas.
“That’s what we have to continue to do,” Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Cale Gundy said. “We’ve got the guys to do it.”
Trey Sermon is Oklahoma’s rushing leader with 294 yards. The sophomore ran for 74 yards against Iowa State, then a season-high 119 against Army. He’s rushed for just over 1,000 yards in his career.
Coach Lincoln Riley hasn’t committed to giving Sermon the primary workload long term. Freshman T.J. Pledger has been playing early in games and Kennedy Brooks had 107 yards and two touchdowns during Saturday’s 66-33 win over Baylor .
“Those other guys are talented, too,” Riley said after Anderson’s injury. “We’re excited about them getting their opportunities and see what they do.”
Murray has helped the Sooners remain productive in the ground game. He ran for 77 yards against Iowa State, 71 yards against Army and 45 against Baylor. He’s second on the team with 285 yards rushing.
Brooks has had few opportunities in games because of depth at the position. He has rushed for 158 yards and three touchdowns on just 12 carries this season.
“He’s been doing that since he’s got here,” Murray said. “I think everybody has known what he was capable of, but nobody’s seen it yet. I think it was a good step for him this past Saturday, getting out there and getting his feet wet. Two touchdowns, he ran well. I think everybody got to see that. So definitely a confidence booster for him and I think that whole room.”
Gundy said the blocking still has room to improve. Most of Oklahoma’s rushing damage against Baylor, aside from Murray’s yardage, came late in the game with the Sooners firmly in control. They’ll have to do better against a Texas defense that allows just 115 yards rushing per game.
“We felt like we could play better on the offensive line than we did Saturday,” Gundy said. “You’ve got to understand there was a lot of pressure Saturday, a lot of inside pressure challenging you to get the ball to the outside. When you’re trying to run against a lot of those blitz looks, it can be very difficult.”