Williams, Clay emerged to lead OU run game this year
BY ERIC BAILEY World Sports Writer
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
12/18/12 at 5:12 AM
NORMAN - Running backs Brennan Clay and Damien Williams weren't the center of attention prior to Oklahoma's 2012 football season.
Much of the talk surrounded Dominique Whaley, whose strong 2011 debut was cut short by a broken ankle.
As the Sooners prepare for a Cotton Bowl matchup against Texas A&M, Williams and Clay have proven to be the team's workhorses while Whaley's injury apparently slowed him more than expected this season.
OU first hinted at its depth at running back when it was learned in the preseason that Roy Finch - who ran for 605 yards in 2011 - was shifted to slot receiver.
Williams developed into OU's top home-run threat, while Clay shucked off two years of injuries for a career year. Fullback Trey Millard, arguably the team's most versatile player, provided an additional weapon in the backfield.
While Oklahoma's pass attack has been strong this season (ranking fifth nationally), Clay said it has been important to establish the run.
"It was tough against West Virginia a little bit and a few other games," Clay said. "You establish the run, it opens up for Landry (Jones).
"You have to give a shout-out to the O-line. They opened holes and did a great job. We were out there balling ... we follow them. They take the lead and we hit the holes."
Clay's emergence didn't come as a surprise to his position coach. Cale Gundy praised the oft-injured Clay before the year's first snap.
"Brennan is one of those that guys that you know what you're gonna get," Gundy said in early August. "Brennan is like a Chris Brown to us as coaches. You know what you're gonna get from Brennan just like we knew what we were gonna get from Chris Brown.
"(Clay's) a little different style player. But they know exactly what they're gonna do. They're not gonna bust, they'll play hard and physical. You can count on guys like that."
Clay's November included a personal-best 157-yard performance at Iowa State, a two-touchdown game against Baylor, a clutch kickoff return at West Virginia and a game-winning overtime score against Oklahoma State. He averaged nearly eight yards a carry in the TCU win.
"It's been up and down, this whole college career that I've had battling through injuries," Clay said. "It feels good to be healthy and 100 percent and do things I could. I give God all the glory and am thankful for what I'm blessed with."
Clay only had 401 total rushing yards and one touchdown in his first two years. In 2012, he has 511 yards on the ground and seven scores, including his first touchdown reception.
"Brennan has been great," OU coach Bob Stoops said. "He's always prepared and works hard. Very intelligent player, so he can go in in any situation, any circumstance and he's ready to make a play. He's made some huge ones through the back half of the season."
Clay has complemented Williams, a junior-college transfer who averaged a team-high 75.4 yards per game. Williams was hindered by an ankle injury that limited his touches against Iowa State and Oklahoma State. But when healthy, he displayed his talents.
Williams rushed for more than 100 yards in four different games, becoming the first OU player to do that since DeMarco Murray did it four times in 2010; Brown accomplished it six times in 2008.
Williams also had four touchdown runs of at least 65 yards this year: 65 at UTEP, 89 vs. Florida A&M, 95 vs. Texas and 66 at TCU.
"Damien had another huge day running the football, which he's capable of when his ankle isn't hurt," Stoops said following a 24-17 win at TCU in the regular-season finale.
Williams' 66-yard touchdown run against the Horned Frogs proved to himself that he was healthy.
"I felt like, coming off my injury, it was a big run," Williams said.
Millard's versatility has paid off not only with his run game (170 yards), but he has added 331 receiving yards from his fullback position.
The junior, with his blocking ability, also provides a key punch in the Sooners' short-yardage sets.
Stoops announced Whaley would start against Iowa State following Williams' injury. But Clay was given the nod instead and produced the best game of his career.
Whaley only had one carry in the season's final seven contests, a 2-yard run against the Cyclones. Following that game, Gundy was asked about the junior.
"He's just ... he's healthy. I don't know if it's a complete, full, 100 percent back like it was the first go-around," Gundy said on Nov. 3. "He practices well. He never has any problems in practice or out here. He's just a little hesitant, and I'm just kind of thinking it is what it is."
Finch only had seven carries this season, with only one coming in the final nine games. He has been an important part of the Sooners' kickoff return game.
OU (10-2) vs. Texas A&M (10-2)
7 p.m. Jan. 4
At Cowboys Stadium
Radio: KMOD fm97.5, KTBZ am1430
Original Print Headline: Williams, Clay have led OU's run game
Eric Bailey 918-581-8391
Brennan Clay has been an integral part of a solid OU running attack this season. JOHN CLANTON / Tulsa World file
OU's Damien Williams causes TCU's Kevin White to miss a tackle earlier this month. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World