NORMAN – Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine could have a stellar game against Kansas on Saturday and still not come close to what he did to the Jayhawks in Norman last season.
Last year, the super sophomore set the NCAA all-time FBS (Division 1) single game rushing record 427 yards and scored five touchdowns. His 222 yards in the first half was a school record.
How do you top that?
Perine has his best game of the year last Saturday as he raced to 201 yards on 23 carries (8.7 yards per carry) and scored four touchdowns. Fellow running back Joe Mixon had his best outing as Sooner, gaining 156 yards on 16 carries (9.6 yard average).
“Samaje makes [rushing] look easy, but he’s running hard, I promise you,” said OU coach Bob Stoops. “He does [have a lot of intangibles]. He has a lot of energy, he’s very passionate the way he plays — he plays hard all of the time.
“Both of those guys do. This was a perfect day to show how they complement one another and why when you have two like them it works pretty well. They keep each other fresh. [Samaje] is an incredible person, teammate. He’s a humble guy and it isn’t just about him. You could not get a better person to not become selfish after the year he had a year ago to just want the ball.”
Oklahoma had to retool its offensive line this season.
“He understands that not only did we lose some great o-linemen that are playing in the NFL, but his fullback Aaron Ripkowski is also playing in the NFL for the Packers,” Stoops said. “[Getting more touches] takes time and he’s been patient with it. He knows given certain days we want to be able to run the football as well as throw. This was a great example of that. He has been really patient and excited for Joe when he gets his opportunities as well.”
Perine and Mixon give the Sooners a tough backfield.
“As far as Joe, because he’s so big and powerful you get to see that a lot on finishing the runs,” Stoops said. “But you saw him make some people miss him in holes and in space. The little subtleties of just a side step or a little head move and all of a sudden you have a 230-pound guy side-stepping you and it’s not easy. He does a good job to make people miss him too.”
Texas Tech defensive lineman Branden Jackson said Perine and Mixon were the best running backs they had played this year.
“They were a really good pair,” Jackson said.”They complement each other with power and speed, like thunder and lightning, and they made a lot of plays and were able to have a good game this week.
“We had to come out in the second half and take over, but they got some momentum on that first drive and found some matchups they liked with those two running backs. It’s frustrating as a defensive lineman to see guys going off like that, but we can’t do anything but go back to work and put out a better performance next week.”
The always humble Perine credited his offensive line.
“I think it was just great blocking,” Perine said Monday. “Our line had a big emphasis on playing more aggressively. Against K-State they started to do that but we still had a little bit to work on. On Saturday, we just came out with a different mentality. It showed big. The holes were there. All me and Joe had to do was run straight through them.
“We have some young guys but they are learning their roles. It’s going to be a scary thing when they really get it down.”
Perine said confidence in the running game is building every week.
“In the last couple of weeks we have been able to run the football better, which allows for more play-action passes,” Stoops said. “Baker had another excellent day. And the offensive line and the running backs, Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, both had huge days.”
First year offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who is known for his passing attack, said the running game is coming around.
“We felt like that the running game is close,” Riley said Saturday. “We finally got over the hump a little bit today. Now that doesn’t mean we’ve got it figured out or we’re over the hump any other time, but we did today. We had a lot of big holes and guys were running through some tackles. As they started to load the box a little bit, our guys were good enough to make guys miss and run through tackles pretty consistently all day. That’s what was given to us and that’s been our goal.”
The offensive line is maturing, Riley said.
“We’re settling in there a little bit,” Riley said. “That’s two games in a row that group has played well. We like the depth we have. Now we have some experienced depth … We’re happy that our two seniors are playing consistently for us… Orlando (Brown) and Dru Samia are getting better and better each week. They’re talented kids. They’re starting to figure it out and see what it takes on a game-to-game basis. That’s exciting not only for this year, but for the future. When you’ve got three guys, two are freshmen and (Jonathan) Alvarez is basically a redshirt freshman. I think he played five snaps last year.”
Stoops said the focus versus Kansas is just to keep improving. Kansas is winless and it might be challenge to take them serious.
“That’s what we’ve got to do,” Stoops said. “We’ve got to push ourselves to be better than we were last week. I felt like we did that a week ago.”
Stoops said his defensive backs have improved as they have gained more experience and as a result, depth in the backfield is better.
“Time on the field always helps guys, as long as they have talent,” Stoops said. “And these guys have talent.”
Oklahoma intercepted four Texas Tech passes, and combined with three last week against Kansas State, has seven pick in two games. The last time OU had that many interceptions in two games was in 2000, when the Sooners won the national championship. OU also had three interceptions against West Virginia.
All Big 12 cornerback Zack Sanchez hurt his ankle on the first play against Texas Tech and had to leave the game.
“I’m proud of a young guy like Dakota Austin who goes in there and plays his rear end off and really competed,” Stoops said. “He came up with a pick when we really needed it. We just got really beat up with injuries. Zack (Sanchez) gets hurt the first play, Marcus Green was out from a week ago with a sprained ankle. Then some other guys and Dakota get hurt. We even had to take our nickel out and Will Johnson had to try to play corner and he gets cramped up and we have to play Steven Parker at corner. Also P.J. Mbanasor had a pulled muscle against a kickoff and he was our other runoff. Against a team like this, we’re just proud of all those guys and the way they played through it being short-manned. But we hung in there and made a lot of big plays defensively – got our key stops – and the special teams were solid as well.”