AMES, Iowa — Brennan Clay was supposed to run up the middle. Run out the clock, go the locker room with a 7-6 halftime lead and try to figure out how to leave the Big 12's northern outpost alive.
“I was really supposed to go up the gut,” Clay said.
But this was a magic day for Clay. A day he went from situational tailback to workhorse. From squadman to star. A day he was indispensable in OU's 35-20 victory over Iowa State.
“I realized, we had, what, 25 seconds left?” Clay said. “I was like, well, our offense is pretty potent. I knew we can take some shots down the field, I figured, why not?”
Clay didn't hit a home run. Didn't go cross-country. But he also did not go gently into that good half.
Clay turned his counter outside, zipped to a nine-yard gain and got out of bounds at the OU 39-yard line with 26 seconds left.
Buoyed by a little field position, Bob Stoops and Josh Heupel got more aggressive. They ordered up consecutive deep passes.
Landry Jones dropped the first one into Justin Brown for a 40-yard gain, the next one to Kenny Stills for a 21-yard touchdown.
The Sooners had breathing room, and when they marched 75 yards in 14 plays after the second-half kickoff for another TD, this game was over.
Not just because of Clay's smarts. Also because of Clay's legs.
Filling in for the injured Damien Williams, Clay rushed for 157 yards on 24 carries.
An OU running game that's been hit and miss this season was definitely a hit Saturday, against a stiff Iowa State defense. And it makes all the difference for Landry, who threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns.
“It just makes it tough on defenses, where they can't play two high safeties all the time,” Landry said. “They gotta roll a safety in the box. Once they do that, they're giving up some things down the field we're able to take advantage of.”
And who saw this coming from Clay? The junior entered this season with the second-lowest yards-per-carry average in OU history, among tailbacks with at least 100 carries. His longest run as a Sooner had been 13 yards.
Saturday, Clay had runs of 12, 12, 15, 13 and 18 yards, the latter for a touchdown.
“One of those deals, it's the next guy up,” Landry said. “We leaned on Brennan today, and he did an excellent job. Brennan's always been a guy that regardless of what happens, he's going to work hard.”
That's the thing about Clay. Great attitude. Smile on his face. Upbeat spirit.
Dom Whaley emerged from nowhere to be the tailback a year ago. Williams arrived from junior college this year and took over.
“That's part of the game,” Clay said. “Great backs come to this university.”
But sometimes, he also serves who stands and waits. Clay has been a decent kickoff returner, plays on third downs as a receiver out of the backfield and gets a few carries a game.
Then came Saturday.
Stoops termed it a “huge day” for Clay and “very satisfying … even for the other guys. He's a great team player. He's an example for all the players. When you get your opportunity, are you going to take advantage of it?”
“I've just been fortunate enough, being able to play my turn,” Clay said. “Damien, it was a sad situation he was out. But I was able to step up. They recruit us for that.”
So Saturday, when this still was a ballgame and the Sooners looked vulnerable in a stadium that has eaten a ranked team or two, Clay kept a half alive and went home with a game he'll remember forever.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.