It seemed almost inevitable at the start of the season. The Sooners running back unit was one of envy nationally. Led by the monster combo of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon and bolstered by worthy back-ups Rodney Anderson, Daniel Brooks and Abdul Adams, records were made to be broken on the ground this season. But no reminders are needed of how thin that depth had dwindled down to when on a chilly November night in Ames, Iowa, it was fullback Dimitri Flowers getting the bulk of OU’s carries late, as the Sooners were down four tailbacks that were expected to be part of the rotation entering fall camp. After a season-ending injury to Anderson in August, Brooks’ college career cut short by concussions and a suspension to Joe Mixon, true freshman Adams had been prematurely thrust into the role of primary ball carrier on the road in a tricky Thursday night trap game. And no player’s absence was felt more than the rock of OU’s offense Samaje Perine, who was missing his third straight game with a leg injury.
Though he would likely tell you it was the furthest thing from his mind coming into the season, the Sooners’ co-captain and leading rusher had the school’s all-time rushing record in sight entering in his junior season — a record that needs no explaining at a program with such proud tradition. But as the injuries mounted up including Perine’s against Kansas State, the glimpse of breaking current record holder Billy Sims’ nearly 40-year mark of 4,118 career rushing yards was beginning to slip out of view. However, doing what he does best — which is coming through with big numbers in big games time after time — Optimus Perine suddenly sits ONLY 83 YARDS AWAY from still becoming Oklahoma’s all-time leader in rushing yards despite playing only nine games this season.
A humble man of many nicknames, Perine through three seasons ranks fifth in Oklahoma rushing history behind 1978 Heisman winner Sims, two-time national champion “Silver Shoes” Joe Washington, 2004 Heisman finalist/former NFL MVP Adrian Peterson and 1969 Heisman winner Steve Owens, and has already passed Quentin Griffin, DeMarco Murray, 1952 Heisman winner Billy Vessels and ‘72 Heisman runner-up Greg Pruitt, among numerous other outstanding rushers at Running Back U.
The fact that this man amongst boys needed only nine games this season to amass 974 and 11 touchdowns, many coming in crucial contests against the Sooners’ most hated rivals, is a testament to his underrated productivity and fine-tuned, disciplined and adaptive running style. In the three final regular season games since returning from injury, the beast from Pflugerville has totaled 499 yards on 91 carries — 239 in a hard-fought Beldam — while splitting time as the thunder to Joe Mixon’s lightning in Lincoln Riley’s nearly unstoppable two-headed backfield for the second straight season. Months before dismantling Oklahoma State, with Joe Mixon struggling and the Sooners desperately seeking an answer to settle a shootout with Texas in the Red River Showdown, Perine delivered in typical fashion with 214 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
He put up a shattering 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns in a breakout freshman season (sixth-best total in school history), and already holds the FBS record for most rushing yards in a game with 427 coming against Kansas in the same season, and went on to add as a sophomore 1,349 yards and 16 touchdowns while putting many games away down the stretch when Riley needed him most. Samaje Perine has simply been one of the most productive backs in college football history, yet also one of the most underrated, underappreciated and overshadowed, as well. No longer would that be the case with his name atop the prestigious pantheon of all-time Sooner greats.
Bob Stoops after Bedlam captured the essence of the bruising back’s trademark style:
“To see somebody run — that's disheartening to any defense when a guy, you know he's going to run it, and they still run it,” he said. “The whole fourth quarter of the game (against Oklahoma State), I mean, he just ran it and ran it and ran it, and there's nothing they can do.”
The introverted Perine usually steers away from discussing himself or his accolades, but his offensive coordinator certainly appreciates his go-to back’s leadership and efforts and would handle all the bragging on his behalf if the rushing record is broken:
“It would mean something,” Riley said. "It's not why we do it and it's not why we're going there, but he's (Perine) such a special guy — a special guy to me. It's obviously a very historic record.”
Though a vastly more talented defense than the one from Stillwater or any OU has faced in conference play, how fitting would it be to impose on an SEC foe in the Sugar Bowl the inevitability of grinding defeat powered by one Perine run after another, too? The Auburn Tigers will bring a stout defense to New Orleans led by a dominant front four and rank 18th nationally in total defense, 20th against the run. They are the best defense the Sooners will face since Ohio State and could pose the same problems up front that Houston did in Week 1. Gus Malzahn’s squad is quite the formidable hurdle standing in the way of more history for Samaje Perine.
But only 83 yards separate his already outstanding career from becoming an historic, untouchable one. Unless the modest leader with a shy smile decides to take a knee and falls a gut-wrenching yard or two short, the most prestigious rushing record in Oklahoma football history is well within reach for the Humble Beast from Pflugerville.