One of the lone bright spots of the 2022 Oklahoma Sooners was their ability to run the ball at certain times. The main catalyst was Tennessee transfer Eric Gray, who completed a stellar season behind 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Regardless of the success, the feeling around the team remained there was potential to rely on the run even more.
When Eric Gray chose to sit out of the Cheez-it bowl and prepare for the NFL draft, OU was forced to turn to a duo of freshman running backs. After Jovantae Barnes split the back up role with Marcus Major during the season, being tasked as a starter against 9-3 Florida State was no easy task.
Barnes wasn’t fazed. Neither was his freshman accomplice, Gavin Sawchuk. The two combined to rush for 208 rush yards and two touchdowns, against a stout FSU defensive line.
Flash forward to 2023, where Barnes and Sawchuk return for their sophomore campaigns with OU. Both covet high expectations, even after a small sample size of success.
If both these players continue on their initial trajectories, the sky is the limit for the OU RB room.
Back in the fold for another season is Marcus Major, who has had an up and down tenure so far as a Sooner.
Though he has shown tremendous flashes, like a two touchdown performance in the opener last season, Major has dealt with a few off the field issues and finds himself behind the two sophomores headed into his Senior year.
Nevertheless, Major has an enticing opportunity ahead, especially if OC Jeff Lebby can find a consistent spot for him. Major has had success in the red zone in prior seasons, so a goal line formation with him as the tailback isn’t a terrible proposition.
Tawee Walker will likely only be used in emergency situations, but he is a player the coaching staff is extremely high on. Same goes for Kalib Hicks and Dylan Smothers.
If OU plans on righting the ship and finishing their last year in the Big 12 on top, the run game is going to determine a ton. Dillon Gabriel seemed to feel much more comfortable in games that OU ran the ball well. This goes without saying, but, it still shouldn’t hinder the importance.
While DG is one of the more experienced QB’s in college football at this point, the amount of pressure that will be taken off his shoulders by having a good run could take the former UCF gunslinger to another level.
There might not be an Eric Gray this season, a guy that rushes for over 1,000 yards and multiple touchdowns. However, the thing OU will have this year that it lacked a season ago is the depth.
There are at least four running backs in the room that the staff would have faith trotting out with the first team.
Expect a “running back by committee” approach to 2023 from the OU offense. Whoever is hot in a certain game will become the bell cow. Expect it to switch week to week.
Don’t be surprised if OU has multiple rushers near 1,000 yards by the end of the year.
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