Oklahoma Football: Running Backs as Receivers Could Be Playoff X-Factor


In order to overcome some matchup problems created by a very good Clemson defense, the Oklahoma football playbook for its College Football Playoff encounter with the top-ranked, ACC-champion Tigers is probably going to have to go with some creativity on offense.

Defensively, Clemson. – which we should remind everybody is under the defensive direction of coordinator Brent Venables, who spent 13 seasons as an assistant and coordinator at Oklahoma – will go old school and try to shut down the Sooners’ ability to run the football. The idea being to force Baker Mayfield to beat the Tigers by going to the air, where he will be going against the Clemson defensive strength.

The Tigers rank 5th in the nation defending the pass, allowing just 165 yards a game. The Sooners have been dramatically better this season in the passing game, which is benefited by the new Air Raid offense installed by new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. Sixty percent of the Sooners total yards on offense this season have come through the air, but Oklahoma has not faced a pass defense the likes of Clemson all season.

Oct 24, 2015; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Samaje Perine (32) stiffarms Texas Tech Red Raiders defensive back Jah

Venables knows the mindset of the Oklahoma head coach. He knows Stoops prefers to establish the ground game as a means of setting up play-action passes and create route-running advantages in space for Sterling Shepard and the other talented Sooner receivers. And why not? When you have a pair of enormously complementary running backs like Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, it’s like having thunder and lightning in the backfield, plus the opportunity to have a fresh set of legs in the game.

Oklahoma has averaged 235 rushing yards per game this season, but over the last six games, in which the OU offense has shifted into a higher gear, the Sooners have averaged over 300 yards on the ground, most of that coming from the legs of Perine and Mixon. The Clemson defensive front is allowing an average of 129 rushing yards, so something is going to have to give in this key matchup. It’s also safe to say that the Tigers have not faced a triple-edge-sword running attack this season like the Sooners will throw at them in Perine, Mixon, and don’t forget about Mayfield’s ability to extend plays with his legs.

Every offensive coordinator recognizes the importance of getting the ball in the hands of your playmakers as much as possible during the course of a game and get them in the best position to make plays. That’s why I would not be surprised – in fact, I would strongly encourage it – to see Oklahoma, in its game planning for Clemson, utilize the pass-catching ability of both Perine and Mixon against Clemson on bubble screens to the perimeter and, in Mixon’s case, in pass routes downfield in an effort to create defensive mismatches and get both powerful runners in space where they can use their strength and speed.

Mixon was the Sooners’ fourth leading receiver this season with 25 catches for 345 yards and four touchdowns. The redshirt-freshman running back averaged 13.8 yards per catch, just 1.4 yards less that what OU’s top receiver, Shepard, averages.

Perine has made some big receptions this season as well, including a huge reception in the end zone on a third-and-goal possession in the Sooners’ win at Tennessee.

Any way you look at it, the performance of Perine and/or Mixon will be an important factor in Oklahoma’s ability to avenge its loss to Clemson last postseason and remain in position to play for an eighth national championship.