NORMAN — A few days into Oklahoma's preseason practices this fall, senior running back Brennan Clay publicly stated his “ultimate goal” for the season.
“I'm shooting for 1,000 (yards) this year, believe it or not,” Clay said.
With two regular-season games and a bowl to go, Clay has rushed for a team-leading 643 yards, but is only averaging around 10 carries a game. His thousand-yard goal has become virtually impossible while splitting carries with fellow seniors Damien Williams and Roy Finch, and Clay admitted the lack of carries has been frustrating.
“I personally feel like, as a running back, you need to feel the ball at least 12 or 15 times to get in a rhythm,” Clay said this week. “It's hard, especially getting a feel for the defense. Mentally you can get in someone's head after a few reps on them. You can see if they're tired or not, or how they like to play. … Getting in a rhythm as a running back is extremely important, but we make the best of our carries.”
The Sooners travel to face Kansas State on Saturday morning, and the trend of splitting carries between several running backs is sure to continue. Williams has a team-high 114 carries this season, and Finch has 52 rushes for 326 yards.
Oklahoma's run game has been the best, most successful part of its offense this season, and lots of that has to do with its impressive stable of running backs.
Clay rushed for a season-high 22 carries and 170 yards in the Sooners' win over West Virginia in early September, but hasn't recorded more than nine carries in the last six games.
Clay's 76-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter Oct. 5 against TCU helped the Sooners secure a tough 20-17 victory. A few days later, coach Bob Stoops said the long run could partially be attributed to the fact that Clay was still fresh late in the game because of splitting carries.
Still, over the next two games — a loss to Texas and a win at Kansas — Clay recorded a combined 11 carries for 46 yards.
In last weekend's 48-10 win over Iowa State, Clay rushed seven times, but turned one of those touches into a 63-yard third-quarter touchdown run.
“I'm sure it is frustrating when guys don't play as much as they want to or get their hands on it as much as they want to, but that's why this is Oklahoma,” said co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell. “There are a lot of good players here, and the ones that get the opportunities are the ones that deserve it, from practice.”
Stoops said playing time decisions are made by individual position coaches. Running backs coach Cale Gundy hasn't been made available for interviews at all this season.
Clay said he worries “from time to time” about the impact his low number of carries could have on his NFL prospects next spring, but that he tries to stay positive through it all.
“It's all God's plan,” Clay said. “You can only worry about what's happening with yourself. … You've gotta make the best of your opportunities, and when you get the ball in your hand, you've gotta make plays.
“Obviously I do want to take my career to the next level, and I'm looking forward to that, and I just want to help this program win first.”