Oklahoma football: Rodney Anderson’s team-first attitude earns respect, more carries

NORMAN, Okla. — If Rodney Anderson felt like the deck was stacked against him, it would’ve been hard to argue with the sentiment. Suffering season-ending injuries in consecutive seasons is tough, and Oklahoma’s running back depth chart is brutal to climb.

When October began, sophomore Abdul Adams and freshman Trey Sermon topped the Sooners’ running back depth chart. Math doesn’t lie: Heading into the game against Texas on Oct. 14, Anderson was averaging 2.8 yards per carry. Adams was up to 10.6, and Sermon was the toast of the town at 6.1 and a team-leading 3 touchdowns.

If there were a time to pout, early October was it. But Anderson saw no positives with a petulant attitude.

“Our coaches do what’s best for the team,” Anderson said. “I’m here to do what’s best for the team. I’m gonna be used how they see fit.”

Coaches noticed Anderson’s steadfast demeanor. They’ve been around long enough to know there are always opportunities for running backs. Adams suffered an ankle injury in the Iowa State game, and missed the last two games. The running depth chart changes faster than the weather.

Against Texas, Anderson rushed for 48 yards on 10 carries and scored a touchdown. There was nothing tentative about how the sophomore ran the ball. He was quick and punished defenders.

“His attitude’s been great,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. “That’s why he was ready to go here the last couple weeks when his opportunity came. He didn’t pout about it. He didn’t get down when he didn’t get the opportunities. He just had a great team-first mentality, kept believing in himself, and he’s gotten opportunities the last week. I thought his confidence grew a lot after the Texas game.”

Then came last week’s game at Kansas State. Adams was still on the sideline. This time Anderson turned into the featured running back on merit.

Oklahoma will ride hot hand

The track record says the Sooners are not interested in splitting carries among running backs. There was never an inkling whether Joe Mixon or Samaje Perine would get the bulk of the carries during the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Both got the call early in games. The hot one gorged in the second half.

The Sooners have done the same thing this season. Anderson, who rushed for 147 yards in the 42-35 victory over Kansas State, became the third Oklahoma running back to rush for more than 140 yards in a game this season, joining Adams and Sermon.

Adams is the Sooners’ best home-run threat. Sermon runs like a monster truck. Anderson brings both elements, providing another element to the offense. He showed on the game-winning touchdown run at Kansas State that he can run away from defenders. But he can also move a pile.

“He may be physically the most complete where he’s got some physicality,” Riley said. “I saw him run through a bunch of tackles the other day. He runs hard and he catches the ball well, but he’s also got some home-run speed.

“He popped some big ones the other day where he’s got a pretty good gear to him. So I would say physically he’s the best one we have.”

He also contributes as a complete back. The Sooners emptied the backfield several times in the second half against Kansas State. Many of their successful receiver screens to either Mykel Jones or Marquise Brown began with Anderson getting a block on the perimeter.

Oklahoma players are all-in on Rodney Anderson

There isn’t a more popular player in the Sooners locker room than Anderson. You could feel hearts sink when the running back suffered season-ending injuries in each of the last two seasons. This is the first time in his career he’s made it to late October healthy.

Anderson never contemplated giving up.

“Injuries happen and that’s part of the game. I know what I signed up for,” he said.

The way Anderson’s teammates mobbed him in the end zone after the game-winning touchdown at Kansas State was genuine. Yes, the Sooners just sealed an emotional victory. But doing it on a play by Anderson iced the cake.

“I think that’s the first step for Rodney,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “I said it postgame that he hasn’t played the past few years. He’s only going to get better, which is a pretty scary thought for other teams because he’s just getting going.

“His work ethic, he’s one of the hardest workers I’ve been around. He deserves everything, recognition-wise, that he got from Saturday. For him moving forward, it’s only going to be better and better.”

The Sooners (6-1, 3-1 Big 12) face Texas Tech (4-3, 1-3) at 8 p.m ET Saturday at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Recent history points to a big game for at least one Oklahoma running back. A Sooners back has rushed for at least 200 yards in the last three meetings against Tech.

Anderson’s emergence means Oklahoma has three candidates to top that mark.

The post Oklahoma football: Rodney Anderson’s team-first attitude earns respect, more carries appeared first on Diehards.

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