NORMAN — Running between the tackles is not for the weak. Holes open and close in the blink of an eye. It takes a mixture of toughness, power, speed and vision to do it.
Just looking at him, you wouldn’t think it would fit Oklahoma running back Brennan Clay. The 5-foot-11, 200-pound senior doesn’t fit the prototype for a power back.
But he fits.
“Brennan has great vision and timing,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “I think timing so much of the time is maybe talked over too much with running backs. It’s all speed and power. But the timing to allow certain seams to open and feel that timing, I think he has a great sense of it to allow things to happen before he go makes his play.”
He’ll try to do those things again when the 18th-ranked Sooners (9-2, 6-2 Big 12) face No. 6 Oklahoma State (10-1, 7-1) Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater.
Winning the game could very well depend on it.
Obviously, the switch to Trevor Knight at quarterback has done wonders for the Sooners’ offense. It has averaged 8.2 yards per carry over the last six quarters in wins over Iowa State and Kansas State.
Knight ran the ball well in both games. He’s averaging 8.75 yards per tote since being re-inserted at quarterback. But the workhorse has been Clay. He rushed for 200 yards on 31 carries against Kansas State and that was after piling up 87 yards on just seven carries against the Cyclones.
The switch to the zone-read offense has truly benefited him as much as the Sooners. The quarterback-run element is a big part, but an effective downhill runner is required for it to truly work.
At first glance, Clay might not pass the eye test, but the results speak for themselves.
“I know I’m not a big guy, but you’ve got to run with power. Smitty (OU strength and conditioning coach Jerry Schmidt) did a great job in the offseason with me. My lower half is pretty strong. That helps me run through tackles and make people miss,” Clay said.
He’s done a lot of both this season. Clay is just 157 yards short of 1,000 this season. OU hasn’t had a running back do that since DeMarco Murray in 2010.
Clay has had big runs like Murray did that season. The difference is they haven’t been a matter of beating the defense to the corner. He’s done just about all of it by wading through defensive linemen and linebackers.
“I don’t necessarily believe you have to be a big guy to run between the tackles. I’ve been fortunate enough to do that pretty well this year,” he said. “And the O-line does a great job of reading their keys. If they get a hat on hat, there’s normally just one guy in the hole. If you’re able to make him miss you’re going to the house. They do a great job of allowing me to do so.”
OU will need to ride him again Saturday. It’s going to be brutally cold in Stillwater and the team that runs the ball best will have a great shot at winning.
Clay has a history of being a dagger in the Cowboys’ heart. It was nearly 54 weeks ago he ended the Sooners’ 51-48 overtime victory against OSU with an 18-yard touchdown run.
That carry would have been the biggest highlight of Clay’s career going into this season. But it was before he became the workhorse this season and an essential component to the Sooners’ offense this season.
“The ultimate compliment is that you’re ready when you’re called upon,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said of Clay. “Brennan’s always been that way, and he’s always responded in the right way.”
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