NORMAN — Could Trey Sermon continue an impressive trend of leading rushers during the Lincoln Riley era?
During the Oklahoma coach’s four seasons of calling plays, his offense has had four different top rushers. From Samaje Perine to Kennedy Brooks — and with Joe Mixon and Rodney Anderson in between — the Sooners have produced a dynamic run game.
OU fans were asked this question by the Tulsa World during an informal poll before this year’s spring game: Which running back would have the most rushing yards in 2019?
Sermon, a junior, picked up 46.9% of the vote. He was followed by Brooks (40.7%) and T.J. Pledger (12.4%).
The position’s depth has allowed Riley to be innovative with his attack. He has said previously that it is a dimension he didn’t have while he was East Carolina’s offensive coordinator for five seasons.
It also helps that the Sooners have a “share-the-wealth” mentality. There were only three instances last season when a running back had 20-plus carries (Brooks twice, Sermon once).
“The quantity helps because we use those guys in so many different ways,” Riley told the Tulsa World last month. “We want to keep them healthy so they can play their best ball. It’s an important position for us.”
Late in the season, Brooks had big games against Kansas (personal-best 25 rushes, 171 yards) and West Virginia (21 rushes, career-high 182 yards). Multiple injuries to others made him the workhorse in the back-to-back Big 12 games.
“In a couple of games, the only (healthy) guy we had was Kennedy Brooks,” Riley said. “(Backfield injuries) can really limit you. It’s like playing with one hand behind your back.”
Brooks averaged 8.9 yards per carry during his redshirt freshman season, which ranked third nationally.
“We were still churning, but you hate to think what it would have been like if something had happened to him,” Riley said.
The running backs room also will include junior college transfer Rhamondre Stevenson (Cerritos College in California) and freshman Marcus Major (OKC Millwood High School).
They will work behind an offensive line that will have four new starters after the departing quartet was selected in the NFL draft.
OU running backs coach Jay Boulware is not concerned about the transition and places trust in offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh.
“Coach B is one of the best O-line coaches in the country. It’s not taking long for those guys to get up to speed and start to do the right things,” Boulware said during spring drills. “They’re not where the guys were, obviously, last year. You’ve got guys who played for three-to-four years. But they’re getting there and it’s starting to look more and more like us every day.
“So our guys are getting good looks at things, but like I said, we’re trying to get that continuity with the offensive line in terms of where the holes are and just being in sync with them.”