Soon­ers' run game tram­pling the com­pe­ti­tion

Tulsa World - - Work&money - By Eric Bai­ley

NOR­MAN — Coach Lin­coln Ri­ley ar­rived at Ok­la­homa with an Air Raid rep­u­ta­tion in 2015.

Now in his fourth sea­son call­ing plays for the Soon­ers

— the first two as of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor — Ri­ley has or­ches­trated a strong ground game.

En­ter­ing Sat­ur­day's Bed­lam game against Ok­la­homa State, the Soon­ers have rushed for

300 yards in three con­sec­u­tive games. Since 2000, it is only the sec­ond time the Ok­la­homa of­fense has ac­com­plished that feat, join­ing a three-game stretch in

2014.

The No. 6 Soon­ers (8-1, 5-1 Big

12) have also had suc­cess run­ning the ball against the Cow­boys un­der Ri­ley. In the past three Bed­lam games, OU has av­er­aged 290.7 yards on the ground and 9.1 yards per carry.

Ruf­fin McNeill was East Carolina's head coach when he hired Ri­ley to be his of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor in 2010-14. He watched Ri­ley grow into the run game af­ter be­ing tu­tored by a pass-happy Mike Leach at Texas Tech.

“When he came to coach (Bob) Stoops at OU (in 2015), I saw an even big­ger deal with the run game,” McNeill said. “You're talk­ing about two NFL draft choices (Sa­maje Per­ine, Joe Mixon) that he had. He's evolved in the run game and peo­ple are copy­ing what he does from all areas of the run game. He blends it so well with the pass­ing con­cepts. You have to pre­pare for his run game and pass game equally. And he's pa­tient, smart and un­der­stands that.”

With Rod­ney An­der­son and Marcelias Sut­ton out be­cause of sea­so­nend­ing in­juries, Trey Ser­mon has de­vel­oped into the fea­tured back.

OU fans re­ceived a taste of Ser­mon's po­ten­tial dur­ing a three-game stretch last sea­son. The run­ning back rushed for 334 yards against Bay­lor, Iowa State and Texas in his fresh­man sea­son be­fore An­der­son be­gan his late-sea­son tear at the po­si­tion.

Last Sat­ur­day, Ser­mon be­came the 23rd player at OU to rush for 200 yards when he fin­ished with 206 yards on 26 car­ries. Over the past three weeks, Ser­mon has rushed for 374 yards.

“His con­fi­dence is grow­ing. He kind of was the closer role for us last year, and he's a con­fi­dent kid right now. He's play­ing well. He's play­ing bet­ter than he did last year, more ex­plo­sive, more ex­pe­ri­enced,” Ri­ley said.

“(Ser­mon's) a horse, man. To have the in­jury he had against TCU and be back as quickly as he has and then look like he did the other night is pretty im­pres­sive,” Ri­ley added. “His ceil­ing is still quite a bit higher so that's the good part about it.”

OU has rushed for 323 yards (vs. TCU), 322 (Kansas State) and 327 (Texas Tech) in con­sec­u­tive weeks.

Ser­mon said he's look­ing for­ward to team­ing up with Kennedy Brooks and T.J. Pledger as the sea­son winds down.

“Our men­tal­ity is just to step up when our name is called,” Ser­mon said. “I feel like so far we've done a pretty good job and I think our ceil­ing is still re­ally high, but we have a lot of room for im­prove­ment and I think we have a bright fu­ture. “

Ser­mon had 10 car­ries for 81 yards in last year's 62-52 win over the Cow­boys, in­clud­ing a 53-yard touch­down run on his fi­nal carry to seal the vic­tory in Stillwater.

Ri­ley said Ser­mon's abil­ity to cut and im­prove his speed has been seen this sea­son. It was a fo­cal point when new strength coach Ben­nie Wylie ar­rived on cam­pus.

“It's been some­thing we put in front of him and trained him that way, and he's re­sponded. He's def­i­nitely mov­ing bet­ter, no ques­tion about it,” Ri­ley said. “His body's bet­ter. He's in bet­ter shape, quick­ness, speed, all that has im­proved and will con­tinue to im­prove too. The great thing is he's been able to get bet­ter at that with­out sac­ri­fic­ing the phys­i­cal­ity.

“That's kind of what's sep­a­rated him from the be­gin­ning so you're start­ing to see what he can do with the ball right now.”

Ser­mon is look­ing for­ward to con­tin­ued im­prove­ment.

“The more con­fi­dence that I have in my­self, the more I feel like I can just go out there and make more plays and win my one-on-one bat­tles, make guys miss and things like that,” he said.

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