Sooners’ running game may become key in Orange Bowl

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MIAMI, Fla. – While much of the attention here in Miami has been on how the defense plans to stop two explosive quarterbacks, that may open up chances for the teams’ running backs.

“It makes my job easier. Right now, we’re very balanced, which is good for me. That opens up the play action. They have to load up guys in the box to stop our run game, so we’re giving defenses fits numbers-wise,” said OU quarterback Baker Mayfield. “So they make my job easy.”

This year, Sooner fans have been able to see two running backs share the brunt of the work.

Samaje Perine became a star last season, racking up 1,713 yards in his freshman season.

“We call him ‘Granddaddy Papa.’ He’s not a guy, he’s not a man of many words,” said Mayfield. “He’s a very humble guy, but his work ethic is something. You watch him and you love it just because he doesn’t have to say anything, he just goes by example, goes about his business and gets the job done.”

In 2014, the freshman phenom made it to the end zone 21 times, making him a household name among Sooner fans.

Now, there’s another running back in the mix.

“It’s been really nice. I’ve said it throughout the season. We feed off of each other, and to have him back there knowing what he’s capable of, it’s comforting. I don’t feel like there’s much of a drop off, if any,” Perine said.

This season, running back Joe Mixon has been helping out with some of the work.

So far, Mixon has scored seven rushing touchdown and accumulated 749 yards. However, the team can also use him as a receiver, where he can also be dangerous to defenses.

This season, Mixon has tallied 345 receiving yards and scored four touchdowns.

With Mixon added to the equation, Perine’s statistics have dropped slightly this year.

This season, Perine has 1,291 yards and 15 touchdowns.

However, Perine says he doesn’t mind and believes Mixon adds a different aspect to the running game.

“I’m not going to argue with my coaches. Whatever they tell me to do, I’m going to do it, and second of all, I want all of us to be good. I want to see the opportunity for my teammates to get out there and make something happen,” Perine said.

Now, he and Mixon say they are ready for the bowl game.

“I feel great. Got some time off, had a couple of good days of practice, and got a little bit of sweat going. Just able to get my legs back underneath me, and ready to go,” Perine said.

While much of the focus has been on Baker Mayfield, Clemson players say they aren’t underestimating the Sooners’ running backs.

“One is more elusive, Perine. He’s a hard one, and that’s going to be the talk of the game, who tackles the best. These guys are going to be hard to get down. It’s going to be tough to get these guys down, so we’re going to have to wrap them up,” said Kevin Dodd.

Despite the speed of the offense, Clemson’s defense believes there are a few things they can exploit.

“I think there’s a lot of things I think we can try to slow down. Like I said, they have a great, explosive offense. You’re not going to be able to try to stop everything, but you can just try your best to slow them down. They’re just so good,” said Cordrea Tankersley.

Mayfield says the game will come down to one tall task.

“I think it’s about eliminating the big plays. Both offenses are very explosive and ultimately keeping the ball in your hands. Our defense has done a great job of getting the ball back for us, so that’ll be a big part of it. But it’s about eliminating the big plays and that does come with keeping the quarterback down and contained instead of making those explosive plays,” he said.

While both teams will be trying to stop the other from harnessing those big plays, Sterling Shepard says they aren’t done just yet.

“We know we’re not exactly where we want to be, so everybody is striving for greatness, and we’ve got to keep pushing,” he said.

Kickoff for the Orange Bowl is set for 4 p.m. (ET) inside Sun Life Stadium.