Oklahoma lost a key component of its offense last week when running back Rhamondre Stevenson announced his decision to leave the college ranks to pursue a career in the NFL. While OU fans want to wish him a ton of success at the next level, we also can’t help but notice the void that it leaves in the backfield. The question of the moment now is, how much will he be missed.
After missing the first half of the regular season, Stevenson returned with a bang and took Oklahoma’s offense to a whole new level. With 101 carries under his belt, he led the team with 665 rushing yards, seven rushing touchdowns, and a 6.6 yards per carry average. That’s why his absence is immediately look upon as a significant setback to Lincoln Riley’s offense. Then we remember that Kennedy Brooks is returning next season.
You could make a pretty strong argument that had Brooks not opted out for the 2020 season the Sooners would have made a playoff push instead of demolishing Florida in the Cotton Bowl. The pros and cons of the playoff vs. winning a New Year’s Six bowl game isn’t what I’m getting at here though. What I am simply trying to point out the significance of having Kennedy Brooks in the backfield vs. the young and inexperienced crop of backs OU had to play the first five games of the season with.
Brooks burst on the scene in 2018 when he was named a Freshman All-American by USA Today after running for 1,056 yards and 12 touchdowns. He followed that up with 1,000 yard sophomore season before taking advantage of the opportunity to opt out in 2020. Having him return in 2021 gives OU an advantage they didn’t have in 2020, a veteran running back with over 2,000 career yards logged.
Brooks will no doubt be the feature back when Oklahoma kicks off the 2021 season but he’ll be supported by a pretty strong group of younger backs that used the 2020 season to get their feet wet. That’s where the true strength of where the Sooner rushing attack may be found. Brooks will need to be spelled at times and the options to do so will be better than what Riley had at his disposal in 2020, if nothing else, due to their gained experience.
Imagine Seth McGowan not having to be thrust into the spotlight as a true freshman but instead having the luxury of slowly bringing him along. This would allow him to have a larger learning curve and would certainly lead to more confidence. Regardless, he’ll enter 2021 as a veteran with 370 rushing, and 201 receiving, yards under his belt. In a true, “trial by fire” experience he’ll be better than he was next season, and that’s not taking anything away from how impressive he was as a freshman in 2020.
That brings us to Marcus Major who will most likely round out Oklahoma’s key contributors at running back for 2021. The redshirt freshman showed true flashes of promise in OU’s win over Texas, running for 43 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, but then he practically disappeared until he showed up at the Cotton Bowl to steamroll Florida for 110 yards and a score on just 9 carries.
This is the trio that is more than likely to be called upon to carry the Sooner rushing attack in 2021. While it will be absent of Rhamondre Stevenson it’ll still be pretty salty. Collectively they’ll bring 2,652 rushing yards, 24 rushing yards, and a combined average of 6.23 yards per carry into the season with them. That’s lightyears ahead of what they started the 2020 season with!
But Wait…There’s A Wildcard
One of the more interesting stories to watch during the offseason is what Lincoln Riley decides to do with Mikey Henderson. I’ve talked repeatedly on our podcast that Henderson provides something that none of the other H-Backs do, the ability to run the ball like a true running back.
He only carried the ball nine times in 2020 but averaged 9 yards per carry and logged a rushing touchdown in the process. He’s a dangerous receiving threat out of the backfield so I really don’t see Riley moving him away from the H-Back position but I certainly can see him getting more rushing attempts in 2021.
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