Oklahoma football: Is Trey Sermon another Samaje Perine?

NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 16: Running back Trey Sermon
NORMAN, OK - SEPTEMBER 16: Running back Trey Sermon /

Oklahoma freshman Trey Sermon is making a strong case to become the Sooners lead running back.

The highly touted freshman made his strongest statement yet, just four games into the 2017 season, with 148 rushing yards and two touchdowns last Saturday in the Sooners win over Baylor. That would be a stellar full-game performance, but the hard-running Sermon did it in just one quarter.

Entering the Baylor game for the first time in the fourth quarter, Sermon’s strength and speed, accentuated by fresh legs, proved to be too much for the worn-down and depleted Baylor defense to handle. Sermon carried the ball 12 times in the final quarter on Saturday and averaged 12.1 yards per carry.

Sermon was handed the ball on 12 of OU’s first 15 possessions in the fourth quarter at Baylor. His two fourth-quarter touchdowns, one set up on a 60-yard run from scrimmage, provided the winning difference in the game and preserved the Sooners undefeated record at 4-0.

Sermon’s size and powerful, physical running style is drawing comparisons to former Sooner Samaje Perine, who in three seasons culminating a year ago became Oklahoma’s career rushing leader with 4,122 yards, surpassing Billy Sims, perhaps OU’s greatest running back.

The sample size is way too small and the timing too premature to be making such comparisons, but the way the young running back from Marietta, Georgia, has begun his Oklahoma career is strikingly similar to Perine’s college debut.

Perine ran for 77 yards against Louisiana Tech in his Sooner debut in 2014. Sermon had 51 yards on seven rushing attempts in OU’s opening game this season against the University of Texas-El Paso.

Oklahoma Sooners Football
Oklahoma Sooners Football /

Oklahoma Sooners Football

In the fourth game of the 2014 season, Perine had a breakout performance, pounding West Virginia for 242 yards and four rushing touchdowns on 34 carries. It’s also interesting to point out that the breakout performances for both Perine and Sermon came on the road in game four of their freshman season. And both players were named Big 12 Offensive Player of the Week immediately after that.

Sermon was one of the prized recruits in Oklahoma’s top-10 2017 recruiting class, the final one recruited by Bob Stoops, who retired in June after 18 highly successful seasons as the Oklahoma head coach. The Sooners won the recruiting battle for the talented running back, beating out such major pursuers as Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama.

Sermon was asked after practice this week why he chose Oklahoma, coming from the heart of SEC country. “It was definitely the running back situation,” he told reporters, including Tulsa World sports writer Eric Bailey.

“I know they had a bunch of great running backs in the past,” he said, “and it was really just talking to all of them and the coaching staff.”

One of the Sooners Sermon spoke with on more than one occasion was Perine, who advised him, Sermon said, that Oklahoma would get him ready for the next level.

Sermon has 43 carries in OU’s first four games, with 28 of those coming in the fourth quarter. Of his 283 rushing yards, 224 have come in the final quarter.

Head coach Lincoln Riley told the Tulsa World that he believes the fact that Sermon was an early enrollee is a big reason he has been able to perform so well so early in the season.

“Trey has a great feel for it,” the OU head coach said. “He’s been pretty smooth with it from the first day he got here. I think you’ve seen the benefit of him coming in here early and going through those 15 (spring) practices. That and heaving all that time (with strength and conditioning coach Jerry Schmidt) mad a big difference.”

Sophomore Abul Adams is still running No. 1 on the depth chart, leading the Sooner running backs with 334 yards rushing and an average of 10.3 yards per carry. But there is no question that Sermon is flexing his muscles and letting his numbers do the talking.

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Sooner fans are going to be seeing a lot more of the talented freshman as the season grinds on. He may not be Perine incarnate — only time will reveal that — but his early season performance absolutely has Sooner fans feeling much better about the OU running back situation than they did in the preseason.