DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown certainly aren't the best individual running backs in the country. That honor probably belongs to Jahvid Best or Jonathan Dwyer. But there isn't a better 1-2 punch in college football than Oklahoma's backfield tandem.
In his three years at OU, the senior Brown has proven himself to be as reliable as a Honda Accord. Homerism can't recall one particularly memorable play from the Bayou State native's career, but his consistency has been nonetheless remarkable.
In 2007, Brown's longest run of the season was just 17 yards, yet he still averaged nearly four yards per carry. He was outstanding in key short yardage situations that year, averaging more than four yards per carry on third downs with three or fewer yards to go and converting 17 of 22 attempts for first downs in such situations. In fact, Brown gained a first down on 25 percent of his rushing attempts for the entire year.
Brown continued his steady play in '08 and grew into more of an offensive threat, running for 20 touchdowns on the year. He raised his yards per carry up to 5.62 despite seeing his attempts increase by about 30 percent. That's all while remaining a strong short-yardage option, turning about a third of his carries into first downs. The highlight of Brown's junior year had to be his gutty performance in the national championship with Murray missing in action. Brown finished with 150 total yards in a losing effort.
(Let's hope those unfamiliar don't mistake the tailback for an infamous "runner" of the same name. Maybe OU's Brown should consider going by "Christopher" to avoid any brand confusion and improve his marketability. But I digress.)
I’ve already written
about the health issues facing Murray heading into ’09. If Brown is an Accord, Murray a Porsche--flashy, but always in the shop. (My apologies for the lame metaphor, but it seems apt.) The fact that the Las Vegas native has been cleared for full-speed workouts is promising. As good as Brown is, he lacks the explosiveness and breakaway speed Murray possesses when fully healthy. Murray also has proven himself to be a threat catching the ball out of the backfield, averaging nearly 13 yards on each of his 31 catches in ’08.
With Mossis Madu
’s move to slot receiver, heralded redshirt freshman Jermie Calhoun
will hold down the third-string spot. As a spread option quarterback in high school, Calhoun displayed a punishing running style. Obviously, how he dealt with a year off from game competition has yet to be seen. With all the promise he showed prior to arriving in Norman, though, don’t be surprised if Calhoun gets meaningful snaps this year.
Fullback Matt Clapp
, a favorite of the OU coaching staff, is as nasty as his namesake
. The first-team all-conference selection reminds Homerism of former OU fullback JD Runnels
--he isn't much of a threat running the ball, but he's an outstanding lead blocker. He also has proven himself to be an underrated receiving threat, catching three touchdown passes last year. And we haven't even touched on Clapp's long, flowing locks yet
Clearly, Murray’s health will play a major role in the effectiveness of OU’s running game this year. Besides being a dynamic playmaker in his own right, Murray’s full arsenal of skills nicely complement Brown’s move-the-chains game. Having both involved in the offense opens up the playbook and gives opponents that much more to prepare for. If Calhoun can contribute this year and offer offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson another weapon, all the better.