Welcome back to another installment in our 2020 Countdown to Kickoff series! As of today, there are 32 days until the scheduled return of Oklahoma Sooners football, and with that said, I want to use this opportunity to highlight one of the best to ever don the Crimson & Cream. That’s right, I’m talking about OU’s all-time leading rusher — the one and only Samaje Perine.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger class act than Samaje Perine. Off the field, he was always soft-spoken and polite with the media, he kept on top of his academics, and he led his teammates by example. You can insert all the positive clichés you want with No. 32 because they were genuinely true. On the field, he carried that class with him on every down, and there’s no better example of this than when he decided to take a knee instead of score a touchdown at the end of Bedlam in 2016. Who says boss moves can’t be merciful?
In the moment, many Sooner fans were a little disappointed that Perine didn’t simply walk into the end zone for points, but in retrospect, it made more of a statement to finish the clock and the game with his team sitting on the ball in complete control. Also, taking that knee should almost be more humiliating for the Oklahoma State Cowboys than if he had simply scored. Throwing shade wasn’t Samaje’s intention here, but in a funny way it ended up being a total sneak diss.
As a recruit, Perine was a four-star prospect out of Pflugerville, Texas. Coming into his freshman year, he wasn’t expected to be the Sooners’ bell cow in the backfield, but as the 2014 season unfolded, the offense struggled as injuries mounted. However, slowly but surely, Perine emerged as a consistent presence, and eventually became OU’s go-to option.
What made him truly unique as a runner was how powerful he was and the balance he possessed. He hardly ever went down on initial contact. Watching Perine is like watching a pinball bounce around the bumpers, all the while maintaining momentum as he continues to run through defenders. Amazingly, his size and strength didn’t come at the expense of his speed. If he broke through that first line of defense, he could rush to daylight in a hurry, making him the stuff of nightmares for opposing DCs in the fourth quarter.
On Nov. 22, 2014, a true freshman Samaje Perine made FBS history. With the Kansas Jayhawks in town on a rainy afternoon, and Oklahoma starting third string QB Cody Thomas, no one in attendance was expecting the level of entertainment they were about to witness. A lightning delay pushed back the start of this hallowed moment, but the weather was just about the only thing that could slow down the Sooners’ one-man wrecking crew.
To put it simply, Perine’s performance was incredible. On 34 carries, he racked up 427 rushing yards and five touchdowns. He averaged 12.6 yards-per-carry, and 15 of his touches went for either a first down or a score. Versus the hapless KU defense, Samaje was virtually unstoppable.
Fun fact: Just seven days prior, Wisconsin Badgers RB Melvin Gordon set the new single-game rushing record with 408 yards against Nebraska, breaking the previously held mark set by TCU’s LaDainian Tomlinson, who had 406 in 1999. While it took 15 years for one of the most impressive stat lines to finally be topped, Perine only needed one week to best it.
From 2014 to 2016, Samaje Perine was an absolute beast for Oklahoma. In 36 games, he amassed 4,122 rushing yards, breaking the previous OU program record held by Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims. Additionally, he added 321 receiving yards and two more scores through the air.
He went on to become a fourth-round selection by the Washington Football Team in the 2017 NFL Draft, and is now with the Cincinnati Bengals sharing a running back room with former Sooner teammates Joe Mixon and Rodney Anderson.
Follow Crimson & Cream Machine on Twitter!