Position Breakdown 2012: Running Backs


The story of Dominique Whaley became well known to Oklahoma football fans in 2011 as he came from nowhere to lead the Sooners in rushing until his season was cut short due to an ankle injury against Kansas.  After the loss of Whaley the Sooners were able to rely on productive rushing from Roy Finch and the red zone attack of the “Bell-Dozer”.

The 2012 Sooners will have Dominique Whaley back and he should be fully recovered from his midseason injury of 2011.  Whaley has a combination of size (5-11 204) and speed that gives him the ability to be an every down back for the Sooners.  Whaley performed well in every game from last season and was able to gain 627 yards on 113 carries for 5.5 yards/carry, and also caught 15 passes for 153 yards and a 10.2 yards/reception.  One area I’m unfamiliar with for Whaley is ability in pass blocking.  If somebody more familiar in this area knows, please feel free to share.

If the Sooners needed to, I believe they could rely on Whaley to carry the ball 250-300 times, although I don’t think that’s in the best interest of the football team.  The 2011, 2010, and 2009 seasons are the only seasons since 2003 that OU ran a fewer percentage of running plays than passing plays with 44.58% of offensive plays being running plays in 2011.  Whaley gives the Sooners a good reason to bring that number back to 50%.

When Whaley went down in the middle of the season, the majority of the carries went to Roy Finch.  Finch finished with a very similar line to Whaley, having 111 carries for 605 yards (5.5 yds/carry) and 34 receptions for 296 yards (8.7 yds/rec).  Finch is a considerably smaller back than Whaley, being listed at 5-7 175, but has great strength for his size.  Finch’s best physical skill is his ability in space.  His go to move is a spin move worthy of a video game and reminiscent of Reggie Bush.  Finch provides an excellent complement to Whaley and in an offense that relies more on rushing should still see a significant number of carries.

Trey Millard should fit in next among running backs.  Millard has always posed a bit of a conundrum for the OU coaching staff, as he fits more as a traditional fullback, which doesn’t necessarily have a place in most of OU’s spread sets, but has skills too good to keep off the field.  Bob Stoops has emphasized getting Millard more touches in the 2012 season, and could probably carry the ball close to 100 times while also catching the ball out of the backfield.  He certainly is too good of an athlete to keep off of the field.

Brennan Clay had the third most touches on the football team last year, but this number should probably go down.  Clay was largely ineffective running the football, although he had some bright spots against Tulsa, Florida State, and the Insight Bowl game against Iowa.  Brennan Clay should have fewer touches in 2012 than any of the three players listed before him.

The Sooners welcome newcomers Damien Williams from Arizona Western College, and freshmen David Smith and Alex Ross.  Add in Danzel Williams coming off of his redshirt season, and the Sooners have a good group of running backs on which they can rely.

I believe the first four players are fairly entrenched in their respective positions, and that two or so of the past four players receiving the rest of the snaps.  Since those carries couldn’t add up to much, I would speculate there is strong consideration going into redshirting both Smith and Ross and allowing Damien and Danzel Williams to both bring up any other carries.  Of course one of the freshmen could play their way into deserving carries and possibly more depending on the health of the main backs and their play.

This group has great depth and a wide variety of skill sets, so I think the Sooners would be well served to bring their rush play % closer to 50%.