2016 recap: Dynamic duo
Oklahoma’s eye-popping passing numbers get all the ink. Ask Lincoln Riley about the key to the Sooners’ offensive proficiency in the last two years, though, and he’d likely tell you that it started with the Samaje Perine-Joe Mixon combo in the backfield.
Their complementary skill sets created matchup problems for defensive coordinators all year long and enabled OU to attack defenses in a variety of ways. Against Texas, for example, Perine pounded away in the second half as the offense salted away a win. Likewise, the Sooners leaned on Mixon’s abilities as a runner and a receiver against Auburn’s loaded defense in the Sugar Bowl, and he responded with nearly 200 total yards and two scores.
Best of all for Riley, he could play the two together in the backfield at the same time or rotate to keep them fresh.
The duo combined for roughly 3,000 total yards and 28 touchdowns in 2016. Equally important to their production, opposing defenses had to account for Perine and Mixon at all times. That created opportunities for the rest of the O. Think Dede Westbrook would have been at the Heisman Trophy presentation if defenses didn’t dedicate so many resources to stopping that two-headed monster?
And we’d be remiss to ignore the most surprising performance of the season by a running back: Dmitri Flowers gashing Iowa State for 115 yards (5.2 yards per carry) with Perine, Mixon and Abdul Adams on the bench.
All of Flowers’ 22 rushes for the season came in that game. Sure, it was the Cyclones, but still - OU couldn’t find any more carries for your boy in the other 12 games?
Story of 2017: A-Team
With Mixon and Perine off to the NFL, the offseason is shaping up as a battle between Adams and Rodney Anderson to be OU’s backfield bell cow.
Adams looked like a solid option in his limited time on the field in ‘16 as he pulled down 5.3 yards per rushing attempt. He showed good explosion through the hole and nice patience as a runner. He probably won’t be shaking off or dragging many would-be tacklers, and he lacks the top-end speed of a back like Mixon. Yet, there’s no reason to think he couldn’t be a productive runner in OU’s offense along the lines of a Brennan Clay.
For Anderson, the biggest issue might be whether or not he can stay on the field. Season-ending injuries in his first two seasons suggest he’ll have a tough time carrying the load of a feature back. If he can, he’ll give the Sooners some physicality carrying the rock at 220 pounds.
In all likelihood, running backs coach Jay Boulware will continue with the kind of timeshare arrangement between Adams and Anderson that OU has used for about a decade now. Flowers might even find himself picking up a few stray touches here and there.
The other guys: Make way for Sutton and Sermon?
OU is actually bringing in three running backs in the ‘17 recruiting class. Hopefully that says something about the coaching staff’s feelings on numbers and not their view of the quality on campus.
JUCO athlete Marcelias Sutton offers the greatest chance of making an instant impact, although it might not come from the backfield. Sutton could end up playing a major role in the return game. He also has the potential either split wide or motion out to take advantage of his shiftiness and skills in space.
If Anderson and/or Adams don’t work out, four-star recruit Trey Sermon could end up playing an instrumental role in the RB rotation. The early enrollee out of Georgia is a powerful runner who will only get tougher to tackle with a little time in OU’s strength and conditioning program. Down the line, look for Sermon to turn into an all-conference performer, but that doesn’t guarantee he’ll be on the field much in year one.
Speaking of time in the weight room, Kennedy Brooks will likely spend a lot of time there in the next 18 months. He needs to put some pounds on that frame before he can be expected to hold up physically over 12-plus games in a season.