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Berry Tramel  


Oklahoma football: Who is the mystery tailback?

by Berry Tramel Modified: November 20, 2013 at 1:45 pm •  Published: November 20, 2013

Combined with Brennan Clay, Roy Finch (22) has had a productive career with the Sooners. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman
Combined with Brennan Clay, Roy Finch (22) has had a productive career with the Sooners. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman

Let me give you the career statistics of a certain Oklahoma tailback.

Four years, with three games to go: 392 carries, 2,201 yards, 15 touchdowns. That’s not Joe Washington territory, but that’s some quality production.

That’s Spencer Tillman neighborhood. Tillman gained 2,257 yards in his OU career. Mike Gaddis gained 2,585 career yards; three more games, our man will catch Gaddis.

Elvis Peacock gained 1,936 yards. David Overstreet 1,702. Our tailback has passed them both.

Not an all-American. But very productive.

So who is this masked man? Roy Clay. Or Brennan Finch. Whichever you prefer. Our mystery tailback is the Roy Finch of 2010-11 and the Brennan Clay of 2012-13.

Finch and Clay came to Norman together, in the recruiting class of 2010, two ballyhooed tailbacks who seemed to fortify the position.

And Finch was an early sensation. He missed much of his freshman season with injury, but when he got into the rotation, Finch gained 398 yards on 85 carries and showed enough that he was a preseason all-Big 12 pick in 2011. And Finch got off to hot start in ’11; he eventually finished with 605 yards on 111 carries.

But Finch’s playing time began to lessen. He seemed to find the coaches’ doghouse, for reasons that remain undisclosed. By last season, Finch was barely playing. He had seven carries all season. This year, he again played sparingly, dropping to fourth-team, though in recent weeks his load has risen, even to the point he started against Iowa State last week.

Meanwhile, Clay was terribly ineffective early in his career. Through two years, he was on pace to be historically bad, with the lowest yards-per-carry average in OU history among tailbacks. His first two seasons, Clay averaged 3.5 and 3.7 yards per carry.

But something happened to Clay in 2012. He became more productive. More explosive. More dependable. Clay became an excellent tailback; even a home-run hitting tailback. The last two seasons, Clay has averaged 6.0 and 6.2 yards per carry, and those disappointing seasons of 2010 and 2011 are a distant memory.

The last two years, Clay has gained 1,198 yards on 196 carries, with 10 touchdowns.

Clay’s rise seemed to come at Finch’s expense. Finch’s early success kept Clay down. Two strange careers.

So let’s put them together. Finch’s first two seasons, Clay’s last two seasons.

Never were they the only bellcow. Finch backed up DeMarco Murray in 2010, then eventually gave way to Dominique Whaley in 2011. Clay was an understudy to Damien Williams in 2012, and has been part of a three-man rotation in 2013 with Williams and either Finch or Keith Ford.

Clay talked about being part of such a rotation and the frustrations that go with it. Our man Jason Kersey wrote about it for the Wednesday Oklahoman. You can read that story here.

But Clay and Finch have been quality players. They’ve had good careers. Combine their high seasons, and they are memorable players in OU history. Alas, they’ve also had their low moments. Their career curves make for a fascinating story.

by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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