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State of the Oklahoma Backfield: Abdul Adams and Trey Sermon emerge as dynamic duo

In a 49-41 victory over Baylor that was much closer than expected, Coach Riley showed faith in two young backs down the stretch.

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Baylor Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

It’s amazing how much can change in 21 days. Only three weeks ago, in the first game of the season against UTEP, running backs Marcelias Sutton and Rodney Anderson combined for 13 carries, 66 yards rushing and two rushing touchdowns. On Saturday against Baylor, Rodney Anderson did not have a single carry while Marcelius Sutton carried the ball five times for a total of three yards.

This decrease in production of Sutton and Anderson highlights a major shift in the Oklahoma Sooners backfield that has occurred gradually over the last couple of games — Sutton and Anderson have fallen back on the depth chart while freshman Trey Sermon and sophomore Abdul Adams have vaulted to the top.

The decreased roles of Sutton and Anderson in the Sooner offense can be attributed to two main factors. First, Rodney Anderson hasn’t really stood out when he’s been on the field. He is solid in many but isn’t excelling in any one category, which is a problem in a talented Sooner backfield. As for Sutton, he has shown good speed and vision but may not be big enough or strong enough to be a consistent running back at this level. He will likely still be utilized in certain situations, but he is likely a true reserve at this point, along with Rodney Anderson.

The second reason why Anderson and Sutton were on the sideline for most of the Baylor game was the emergence of Abdul Adams and Trey Sermon. Both backs have stepped up over the last few games and shown why the running back committee has been whittled down to two backs. In Waco last night, the duo combined for an impressive 312 yards and three touchdowns on only 23 carries. While Adams did his damage in the first three quarters, Sermon came in at the beginning of the fourth quarter and gashed a fatigued Baylor defense. This is exactly what you want to see from a running back duo — a speed back (Adams) that gets the defense tired through the first couple of quarters and then a power back (Adams) that can come in and run over the fatigued defense.

While Abdul Adams and Marcelius Sutton have comparable speed, Adams is the speed back getting most of the carries because he shows a high level of patience and discipline when running the football (and is also a bit bigger). He lets his blockers get out in front of him, lets the holes develop, and then bursts through them into the open field, using his speed and agility to make defenders miss and gain yards after contact. There’s a reason Adams received offers from schools like Alabama, Michigan, Georgia, Florida, and Notre Dame coming out of high school — he possesses a great combination of speed, agility, vision, and strength for his 5’11", 205-pound frame. Here is the record-setting 99-yard run by Adams that showcases his impressive skill set.

This run is so remarkable because when Adams gets the handoff deep in his own endzone, there isn't a huge hole in the line that opens up. Rather, there a tiny crease that Adams has to wait a split second for. Once Adams sees the crease in the line, he hits it right away and is able to juke two Baylor defenders. Once he jukes the defenders and gets to the second level of the defense, he is off to the races. This run shows the vision, agility and breakaway speed of Adams that makes him so dangerous in this offense.

Serving as the perfect complement to the speed of Adams is the power of freshman running back Trey Sermon. Although Sermon doesn't quite have the breakaway speed of Adams, he has enough speed to get down the field and sheds tacklers the same way Samaje Perine used to during his days in Norman. In addition to this power, Sermon has shown a great deal of maturity for a freshman, and he showed once again last night that he is not afraid of big moments.

When Sermon came into the game last night at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Sooner defense was getting torched and the offense was sputtering. They were starting to get pushed around by the Baylor Bears and Sermon came in and changed all that. He ran for 148 yards and two touchdowns on only 12 carries, with his most notable run coming on a 60-yard run where he might have scored if it weren't for a horse collar tackle by the Baylor defender. On this run, he showcased not only his power but also his athletic ability, tip-toeing on the sideline after breaking several tackles. Here are some highlights from Sermon’s clutch fourth-quarter performance.

Following this brilliant performance (albeit against a sub-par run defense), Trey Sermon has to be feeling good about being the closer for this Oklahoma offense. With more performances like this, Sermon will likely cement his place in the Oklahoma backfield as the dominant power back next to the speedy Abdul Adams. Look for Adams and Sermon to continue to battle for carries as the season goes on in a healthy competition that will be a boon for Baker Mayfield and the rest of the OU offense. If both backs continue to play like they played on Saturday, Oklahoma will be primed for a CFP run — if they can get the defense back on track, that is.