STILLWATER â€” A key situation in Oklahoma State's win over Texas reveals the depth the Cowboys have at the running back position.
With the score tied at 3 and OSU facing a critical third-and-goal, running back Kendall Hunter lined up alongside quarterback Brandon Weeden. At the snap, Weeden turned and handed the ball to Jeremy Smith, who, thanks to a great lead block by Hunter, galloped into the end zone for a 6-yard, second-quarter touchdown.
Hunter, the nation's fifth-leading rusher, became a lead blocker instead of the primary ball carrier as OSU's No. 3 running back cruised into the end zone. That duo has combined with freshman Joseph Randle give the Pokes three different tailbacks might be starters.
â€œAll three are different,â€ OSU offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen said. â€œAnd all three are capable of being the main guy. If we were going to play one running back, all three of them could be that one running back.â€
Hunter is one of the best running backs in the nation. One of three finalists for the Doak Walker Award, Hunter has rushed for 1,461 yards and 16 touchdowns. He's tough to tackle in the open field and has underrated strength and durability.
â€œKendall is Kendall,â€ Holgorsen said. â€œHe's a guy you want to hand it to 30 times per game.â€
Randle is one of the most versatile running backs in the Big 12 with his 1,074 all-purpose yards topping every other freshman in the conference. The Wichita, Kan., native has made screen plays among the most lethal in the Cowboys' arsenal.
â€œHe's the best receiver of the three,â€ Holgorsen said. â€œWe want to get Randle involved with a lot of third-down stuff. We can throw screens to him, throw it to him out of the backfield.â€
And Smith's vision, quick feet and relentless running style makes him an ideal goal line running back.
â€œSmith may be the best downhill guy we've got as far as getting your pads low and going forward,â€ Holgorsen said. â€œHe takes the best steps and hits it better than all of them.â€
More than half of Smith's 33 carries this season have come in the redzone with the redshirt freshman recording 19 carries for 77 yards and five touchdowns inside the opponent's 20-yard line, according to cfbstats.com.
â€œIt's really hard to take Kendall off the field,â€ Holgorsen said. â€œBut if he's tired, you're better off putting the fresh guy.â€
Having three talented, different options at running back will present a tough test for Oklahoma. Heading into Bedlam, the Sooners' defense has allowed 150 rushing yards or more in six games this season, including each of their last three games against Texas A&M (157), Texas Tech (182) and Baylor (237).
And OSU's offensive line continues to prove it can create space for all three ball carriers to do what they do best.
â€œKendall is quick twitch, will make you miss; Jeremy will run straight ahead and run you over; and we use Joseph out of the backfield catching balls,â€ Weeden said. â€œThey complement each other very well.â€