Oklahoma Running Backs: A Jar That Is Never Empty

Luke McConnellCorrespondent IJuly 19, 2010

In the Bible, in the Book of 1 Kings, there is a story about the prophet Elijah and a poor widow and her son.  In a time of intense famine, Elijah asked the widow to use the very last of her flour and oil to make bread for him.  However, he promised that if she did this, the jar of flour would never be empty and the jug of oil would not run dry.

To make a short story shorter, God provided and the flour never ran out and the oil didn't run dry.  

It seems to be the same scenario for the backfield of the Oklahoma Sooners.  

Year in and year out, it seems that the Sooners always have one or several running backs that are capable of big time performances.  

The Sooners of today have an extremely wide open offense with a lot of passing, but a lot of running as well.  The high point of this new offense was 2008 when the Sooners scored an NCAA record 716 points in the season and had a 4,000 passer in Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford and two 1,000 yard rushers in Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray.

But this wide open offense is a far cry from the Sooners of old.  

In 1970, offensive coordinator Barry Switzer convinced head coach Chuck Fairbanks to switch to the Wishbone offense.  The switch was a huge risk because at the time, the only team running the Wishbone was Texas and the only knowledge of it was from what you saw of the Longhorns on the field.  

The switch proved to be a stroke of genius and saved Fairbanks' job until he turned things over to Switzer.

The Wishbone attack defined the Switzer era at Oklahoma as the Sooners averaged more than 60 carries per game and ran for more than 300 yards a game.  

The high point of this offense, ironically, came in the second year of its implementation in 1971.  The Sooners ran an average of 66 times a game for an average of 470 yards and an astounding seven yards per carry.

This remained the norm throughout Switzer's tenure. 17 of the top 18 rushing seasons in Oklahoma football history came between the years of 1970 and 1989.  

So different is the offense now that the most recent year in the top 25 rushing seasons in Oklahoma football history is 1990!

As great as the Sooners have been at running the football as a team throughout the years, you have to have great individuals in the backfield to put up the numbers.

Individually, the great line of OU running backs can be traced back to the Sooners first Heisman Trophy winner, Billy Vessels.  Vessels won the award along with first team All-American honors in 1952.  

Throughout the Bud Wilkinson years, there was never a major standout running back, but several good ones did pass through Norman, such as Vessels, George Thomas, Jim Grisham, and Leon Heath.  

Steve Owens became the Sooners second Heisman Trophy winner in 1969 when he ran for 1,523 and 23 touchdowns.  Owens stands fourth on the Sooners all time rushing list. 

Beginning in 1970, a string of stellar running backs began to run through OU, leaving nothing but a trail of dust behind them.  

Gregg Pruitt was the first standout running back of the Wishbone era and finished his OU career second behind Owens on the rushing list. 

The next two running backs would best both Pruitt and Owens in the career yards department.

First came Joe Washington and following him was the great Billy Sims who won the Heisman Trophy in 1978 with a 1,762 yard, 20 touchdown season.  

Standout running backs continued to come in as Stanley Wilson followed Sims and Spencer Tillman after that.

All told, five of the top 10 rushers in OU history played in consecutive seasons under Barry Switzer from 1970-1987.  

The Wishbone offense was definitely a system and many of these running backs and their yards were a product of that system.  However, there were many that were genuinely good players, such as Sims, Washington, and Tillman.

The modern era of Sooner football has seen another string of stellar running backs come through Norman, with no end in sight.  

Quentin Griffin became the figurehead of this newest run (no pun intended) when the Sooners won the national championship in 2000.  Griffin's touchdown run in the fourth quarter was the only one scored in a 13-2 Sooner victory.

Renaldo Works and KeJuan Jones continued to carry the load after Griffin graduated with Jones finishing 18th on the Sooners rushing list.  

Then in 2004, Adrian Peterson stepped on campus and the Sooners had as dominant a running back as they had ever had.  Peterson literally ran away with every freshman award in 2004 and nearly won the Heisman Trophy as well.  

Unfortunately, Peterson's final two seasons were marred with injuries, or else he could have easily taken over the top spot on the Sooner rushing list from Billy Sims.  

Chris Brown and DeMarco Murray arrived in the wake of Peterson's departure and, along with surprise Allen Patrick in 2007, led the Sooners rushing attack for three seasons.  

The standout year for this duo was the aforementioned 2008 season when the two both rushed for over 1,000 yards and combined for 2,222 (no joke) yards and 34 touchdowns.

Going into 2010, Murray is the feature back, but he is far from alone in the backfield.

Sophomores Jermie Calhoun, the 2008 Texas 3A player of the year, and Jonathan Miller both saw action in 2009 and are ready for more extended action in 2010.  

Throw in new freshmen Brennan Clay and Roy Finch, both highly touted recruits, and the Sooners, once again have a loaded backfield primed and ready to go.  

Oklahoma may be a spread team, but running the football flows in the veins of the Sooners.  The Sooners always have a solid running back ready to go and perform at a high level.

That jar just doesn't run dry.  


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