When the fourth quarter began Saturday, OU tailback Roy Finch had not carried the ball. That’s not unusual. Finch’s workload has steadily decreased throughout his Sooner career, until a recent revival.
Even this season, when the OU coaches have rediscovered Finch to some degree, his usage has not been high. Finch had three carries against Notre Dame, one each against Texas and TCU.
But in the fourth quarter against Tech, the Sooners turned to Finch. And the results were outstanding.
With 13:33 left, OU took over at its 42-yard line. And gave the ball to Finch four straight times: the gains went for 2, 9, 18 and 11 yards. The Sooners were on the Tech 18-yard line, Finch got a breather and OU scored three plays later to take a 35-24 lead.
With 7:13 left, OU took over at its 28-yard line. Blake Bell threw for six yards on first down. Then Finch again carried four straight times: the gains went for 8, 6, 5 and a loss of four yards. Finch got another breather, the Sooners continued on to the Tech 14-yard line and kicked a field goal with 1:17 left in the game to take a 38-30 lead.
Finch finished with 55 yards on eight carries.
“He was making great cuts,” Bob Stoops said. “The timing of it worked really well. Roy had some really good plays in there. And again, the guys in front of him were giving some nice space, too.”
But this was more than just nailing down a victory in the fourth quarter. The Sooners can cull at least three fruitful lessons from that Finch Fourth Quarter:
1. Finch wasn’t just running sweeps. He had several inside runs. He’s not any bigger than a breadbox – 5-foot-7, 167 pounds – but Finch’s quickness and invisibility makes him a viable between-the-tackles tailback.
2. The Sooners perhaps discovered a great change-of-pace ploy. Finch against Tech reminded me of OSU’s Rennie Childs against TCU. The Cowboys inserted Childs at tailback in mid-third quarter, and the rest of the game he ran nine times for 45 yards. To that point, tailbacks Jeremy Smith and Des Roland had combined for 15 carries and 25 yards. Childs was a step (or three) quicker, and combined with TCU fatigue, the new blood at tailback was incredibly effective.
The same thing seemed to happen at Owen Field. Damien Williams and Brennan Clay had been productive against Tech, but when Finch entered, the tempo of the tailback runs changed. He hit holes more quickly, danced around and made a tired defense even more tired.
I don’t know why this wouldn’t be an automatic strategy moving forward. Sit on Finch much of the game, then unleash him in the fourth quarter.
3. The best news? Finch’s second possession production – and the production of the entire offense on that drive – came without Trey Millard.
The Sooners are going to have to play without the stalwart fullback the rest of eternity. The senior suffered a torn ACL knee injury in the fourth quarter.
OU will have to figure out how to do without Millard’s blocking, his passcatching, his running, his versatility. No way can the Sooners make up for Millard’s void.
However, the Sooners looked solid in that final drive, even without Millard. Tight end Brannon Green played well, reviving hopes that the Sooners might rediscovered the position. Aaron Ripkowski can block well enough to be a facsimile of Millard. Neither Green nor Ripkowski can do all the things Millard can do, or even do them as well. But they can do some things well.
“Brannon’s been doing really well,” Stoops said. “Guy that works hard, has come on. And he has good hands.
“I’m proud of the way we took the ball over with little over seven minutes and we don’t give it back until a minute 15 or so. We made ‘em burn their timeouts. Get three points to go up eight. Really exciting to see us do that again.”
It had to be comforting that there was life without Millard.
But still, the Sooners will miss Millard.
“When you watch all those runs – Damien also had a huge day – look who’s in front of ‘em all the time, knocking somebody down, clearing somebody out of the way,” Stoops said. “Trey Millard. Usually one of those guys, clearing the path. He’s a consistently recognized as having a winning game, a great game, with knockdowns, with blocks, catching the ball, running the ball, he does so many things.”
So how will the Sooners replace him? Stoops doesn’t pretend to know. “Just offensive coaches sitting down and deciding personnel,” Stoops said. “It’s not like you go draft somebody. We have the guys we have.”
One of those guys is Finch. And the Sooners have found a way to use him quite effectively.