STILLWATER — There are plenty of elements that quickly come to mind when thinking of Oklahoma Sate running back Joseph Randle's game.
Versatility. Explosiveness. Nifty moves in the open field. Touchdowns.
But with the rash of injuries that have hit the Cowboys this season, especially at the offensive skill positions, perhaps Randle's most underrated quality has been brought to the forefront.
“Underrated to who?” said running backs coach Jemal Singleton, before half-jokingly searching for some wood to knock on.
Ideally, Singleton wants to have four running backs to rotate in the game. But Jeremy Smith has continued to be hampered by an ankle injury, as evidenced by his one carry against both Kansas and Iowa State before limping off the field. Sophomore Desmond Roland still has some learning and growing to do. So does true freshman Caleb Muncrief.
That has left Randle with the vast majority of the Cowboys' carries, something that could be the case again when OSU goes up against a stout TCU rush defense when the two teams square off Saturday afternoon at Boone Pickens Stadium.
The past three games, Randle has averaged 26 carries per contest, compared to an average of 16 carries per game in 2011. Offensive coordinator Todd Monken estimated Randle was on the field for more than 80 plays against a sound ISU rush defense.
Randle doesn't mind the heavy workload.
“I'm ready for whatever,” he said. “I can hold it down until (Smith) comes back so he can get a few carries and stuff. But until then, I'm fine with taking all the carries.”
And Randle has found success with the increased carries. Over the past three contests, Randle has totaled 430 rushing yards and four touchdowns. He had what coach Mike Gundy called his best game as a Cowboy against Texas, with 199 yards and two touchdowns. He struggled against Kansas (80 yards on 29 carries), but responded with 151 yards and two scores against ISU.
On the season, Randle ranks eighth nationally with 127.50 rushing yards per game.
So what's the key to being a durable running back? Singleton first points to fundamentals like running with toughness, balance and good pad level, so defenders bounce off the upper part of the body rather than getting to the legs. And then some runners just have an innate ability to torque their body the right way before sustaining a blow or going to the ground — that saying that a player “never takes a clean hit.”
There are plenty of looming questions surrounding the OSU offense heading into Saturday's game against the Horned Frogs. Will Wes Lunt or Clint Chelf play quarterback? And who will he throw it to?
But there is no doubt about who will spend the majority of the game in the backfield, as Randle has become Mr. Dependable in a Cowboy season marred with injuries.
“There's just those guys that don't get injured and take care of their bodies,” Singleton said. “We've been fortunate enough that Joe's been that type of guy. Knock on wood, but he's been a guy we can count on and rely on.”