Junior running back Rodney Anderson has only played one complete season at Oklahoma. It was a heck of a season though! The Katy, Texas native paced the Sooners with 960 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. His average of 5.9 yards per carry was enough to feel the temptation of the NFL Draft but admittedly he still has some work to do in Norman.
“But I had work to do here,” Anderson said, in regards to the NFL, as Oklahoma’s spring practice was getting started. “There are a lot of things I have left to accomplish.”
With the departures of Baker Mayfield and Mark Andrews to the NFL, Anderson is one of the leading candidates to fill Oklahoma’s void at the centerpiece of the offense. Kyler Murray enters the conversation as well with his speed from the quarterback position, but it’s that skill set that may boost Anderson’s production to the next level.
The Sooners are going to go through some sort of identity change (big or small) as they bring in new personnel to run the show. However, one thing we know is that running may be the biggest new wrinkle that Lincoln Riley unleashes on opponents this fall.
That’s not to say that running hasn’t already been a thing the Sooners have done well under Riley, but the way in which they do it could be a bit different in 2018. More zone read and draw plays are most likely in the works for this Oklahoma squad, as well as the potential for a revival of the option. All of those plays will put focus on Murray’s speed and will ultimately result in Anderson being the benefactor.
The Sooners haven’t had a single running back lead the team in rushing for back-to-back years since Samaje Perine did so during the 2014-15 seasons. Anderson is likely to snap that streak this fall but he’s got bigger goals in mind.
“I’m just trying to help my team win a national championship,” Anderson said in the spring. “That’s the big goal. First we have to get through the season and get a Big 12 championship, but the ultimate goal is to win a national championship for this university.”
A victim of the injury bug in 2015 and again in 2016, Anderson slowly worked his way into Oklahoma’s offense in 2017. Seeing just 11 carries during the first three games of the season he didn’t play in OU’s 49-41 blowout win at Baylor in week four. Two weeks later in had just one carry in the Sooners’ upset loss to Iowa State, marking just 12 carries for 34 yards during the five games.
Then something happened. Abdul Adams had ball security issues and Lincoln Riley needed a change of pace. Anderson carried the ball 10 times against Texas, rushing for 48 yards and a score. A week later he cracked the century mark, running the ball 19 times for 147 yards, and scored the winning touchdown against Kansas State.
By Oklahoma’s eighth game of the season, against Texas Tech, he had become the primary back in the offense and was seemingly padding career stats each week. His best game of the season came in Oklahoma’s playoff loss to Georgia, at the Rose Bowl. In that contest he rushed for 201 yards, on 26 carries, against what was thought to be the top rush defense in the nation.
It’s that Rose Bowl game that gave us a glimpse into what the future could look like with Anderson. Georgia’s defense had keyed on quarterback Baker Mayfield, leaving Anderson with the ability to consistently get to the second level (he averaged 7.7 yards per carry).
Kyler Murray is going to command that same type of attention because of his ability to run the ball, and for the first time in his career Anderson will enter the season as the feature back.
As he breaks in a new quarterback, misdirection plays will become Lincoln Riley’s best friend. That’s great news for Rodnesy Anderson because it will allow him to be showcased as the centerpiece of the offense.