OSU's Randle, Smith exceed expectations
BY BILL HAISTEN World Sports Writer
Sunday, December 25, 2011
12/25/11 at 4:44 AM
The Brandon Weeden-Andrew Luck duel commands attention, but the Fiesta Bowl outcome may be determined by guys like Joseph Randle, Jeremy Smith and Jarek Lancaster.
Randle and Smith are the Oklahoma State sophomore running backs who this season combined for 32 rushing touchdowns. Lancaster, an interior linebacker, is the leading tackler for a Stanford team that leads the Pac-12 in rushing defense. The Cardinal allows only 93.3 rush yards per game.
While the 2011 Cowboys are No. 2 nationally in passing offense at 386.2 yards per game, they average 170.8 on the ground - their lowest average since 2005. However, that statistic does not reflect the extent to which Randle and Smith have been effective.
In the history of the OSU program, Randle's single-season total of 23 rushing touchdowns is second only to Barry Sanders' 37 in 1988.
In 2006, OSU led the Big 12 in rushing while running for 28 TDs and averaging 5.2 yards per attempt. In 2007, OSU led the Big 12 in rushing while running for 30 TDs and 5.3 yards per attempt.
This season, the Cowboys are only seventh in the conference in rushing, but have a team total of 34 rushing touchdowns and a 5.4-yard average.
"I'm just thrilled to death that in the games (in which) we needed to run the ball, we were able to," OSU offensive coordinator Todd Monken said. "The only one that really matters is Iowa State (a 37-31 loss), and weren't able to run the ball as well as we want to. That's the most disappointing of all of it."
During the preseason, Cowboy coach Mike Gundy expressed the hope that Randle and Smith would combine for the same total of rushing yards - 1,548 - recorded by Kendall Hunter in 2010.
Entering the Fiesta Bowl, Randle has run for 1,193 yards and Smith for 645 - a combined total of 1,838. Randle averages 6.0 yards per carry. Smith averages 7.2.
"That's pretty nice," Smith said. "That's really nice. It's a great accomplishment. You have to give praise to our offensive line. Those guys are great. And Brandon Weeden - our passing game opens up everything for our run game."
During OSU's Big 12 championship-clinching Bedlam victory over Oklahoma, Randle ran for 151 yards and Smith for 119. OSU scored four offensive touchdowns - all on run plays (two by Randle and two by Smith).
"They're just good kids and they run hard and play unselfish football," Gundy said. "I knew Jeremy Smith is better than he was showing. We started to see him improve at the end of last season and we were hoping that he would continue through. His mental approach and his attitude (are) so much different than it was a year and a half ago, and that's why he has become such a good football player.
"Joseph Randle was probably the best freshman running back in the country last year."
Randle also has 38 pass receptions this season. An underrated aspect of the Randle-Smith contribution is their ability - and willingness - to block in pass-protection situations. "I think they're very consistent with picking up blitzes," Cowboy center Grant Garner said. "For the most part, they always know who their guy is and they make their block."
After having run for 327 yards against Baylor and 278 against the Sooners, Oklahoma State now faces a Stanford defense that held eight opponents under 100 rushing yards.
Randle's big season
In addition to having become the 14th OSU player to rush for a single-season total of more than 1,000 yards, sophomore Joseph Randle is second only to Barry Sanders in single-season rushing touchdowns and scoring:
37: Barry Sanders, 1988
23: Joseph Randle, 2011
17: Thurman Thomas, 1987
16: Kendall Hunter, 2010
16: Kendall Hunter, 2008
16: Tatum Bell, 2003
234: Barry Sanders, 1988
150: Joseph Randle, 2011
149: Dan Bailey, 2010
134: Quinn Sharp, 2011
132: Justin Blackmon, 2010
Vs. Stanford at Glendale, Ariz. 7:30 p.m. Jan. 2
Radio: KFAQ am1170, KAKC am1300
Original Print Headline: Randle, Smith exceeding expectations
Bill Haisten 918-581-8397
OSU's David Paulsen celebrates with Joseph Randle after scoring a touchdown against Missouri during the game in Columbia, MO. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World