NORMAN — Norman quarterback Zach Long is doing his best to fill the void of Donovan Roberts.
No, Long isn't trying become the dominant running force Roberts was the last two seasons for the Tigers.
But in addition to his rushing production, Roberts' leadership is absent, now that the running back is a freshman at Arkansas. And that's where Long has made the most difference.
“Donovan had always been that guy leading us,” Long said. “I've been a lot more vocal this year than the past two years. I'm trying to take that role.”
In his third year as the Tigers' starting quarterback, Long hasn't been asked to run much until this season. He totaled 308 rushing yards during his sophomore and junior seasons. Long has blown past that number through four games.
He had more than half that total last Friday against then-No. 9 Mustang. Long finished with 159 yards and three touchdowns on just 13 carries during the 56-35 win to earn The Oklahoman's Player of the Week honor.
Coming into the season, Long knew the job to replace Roberts' yardage would be a collective effort of strong blockers and a triple-threat backfield, which included Imond Robinson and A'erion Hines.
“With the three of us in the backfield, we thought the option would be a good tool for us, and I knew I'd have to take some of the runs,” said Long, who had never run the option offense before this season. “We're not a team that's gonna throw 20 times a game. But when we throw, we want to be as effective as we can, short and efficient throws, and maybe hit that big play down the field.”
Long has two 100-yard rushing games already this season, and his speed has caught some people by surprise.
“Some of the fans and some of the students tell me, ‘Hey, we didn't know you were that fast,'” Long said with a laugh. “I've always had it, just never showed it that much.”
But his teammates know what he's capable of doing.
“It doesn't surprise us,” offensive tackle Zac Uhles said. “He has really matured. He's quick and he's making the reads a lot faster, and that helps.”
Still, Long's running ability is only a portion of his contribution to the Tigers' success. Coach Greg Nation frequently points to his quarterback's ability to take command of the team.
“He's doing a great job with his leadership on the field,” Nation said. “He's got a lot of poise. He manages the clock well. He manages the game well. I think all those things together come into what makes him such a great quarterback for us.”