BY GINA MIZELL, Staff Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
STILLWATER — Jemal Singleton is a big fan of this slogan: “Don't mess with the mojo.”
That's something the Oklahoma State running backs coach had been searching for most of the season, as the Cowboy attack — Jeremy Smith, in particular — struggled to find holes, break tackles and pick up yards. And it's something Singleton finally found Saturday in Desmond Roland, who exploded for 219 yards and four touchdowns on 26 carries against Iowa State.
So what made Singleton originally turn to Roland, particularly after the junior had tallied just five carries for 12 yards over OSU's last two games?
“He's shown these glimpses of doing the things that he did on Saturday,” Singleton said. “… He did the things that I knew he was capable of doing, that I've seen him do. And it was nice to see him get rewarded, to get to see him do the things that we pound on and talk about every day and it bring success for him.”
Following the Cowboys' win against TCU — where Smith gained just 14 yards on 12 carries and fumbled — Singleton began looking for a spark. He turned to Roland's overall body of work over the potential of true freshman Rennie Childs, who totaled a team-high 45 yards on nine late carries against the Horned Frogs.
Singleton looked at the West Virginia game, where the Cowboys compiled just 111 yards on 40 carries but Roland had 46 yards on seven attempts. He also considered Roland's consistency in practice. Then in a meeting last Sunday, Singleton notified the position group that Roland would start against Iowa State.
And when Roland started rumbling through the Cyclone defense, Singleton didn't mess with the mojo.
“I was just staying positive,” Roland said. “And I was thinking that once I get my chance to play and carry the ball a lot, I had to take advantage of it. And I felt like I did.”
Roland's numbers Saturday were eye-popping. Yet the 219 yards was the last stat Singleton looked at.
What impressed the coach more? The fact that Roland didn't have any carries for negative yardage, something that had plagued Smith and others in previous games as they tried to make cuts behind the line of scrimmage while opposing defenders powered past the OSU offensive linemen and sliced into gaps.
Additionally, Singleton was encouraged by Roland's stamina to play 60 snaps, the most by any OSU back this season and an accomplishment the coach compared to former All-Big 12 rusher Joseph Randle.
“It was nice, because I could ride Desmond more,” Singleton said. “He could go longer just because of his lung capacity and his speed and how he plays. He was the same in the fourth (quarter) as he was in the first.
“He kind of, like you see so many backs do, got stronger as the game progressed.”
Singleton admits it was difficult to move Roland ahead of Smith, a guy who has rushed for more than 1,700 yards and 33 touchdowns in a very productive career and was finally getting his chance to start as a senior. The coach said Smith even played “extremely well” while picking up 56 yards and a score on 11 carries against Kansas State on Oct. 5.
Still, after the TCU game, the position group needed a shakeup.
“Tough deal,” Singleton said. “Jeremy Smith knows that we need him if we want to have any chance to win the next game …
“We've won a lot of football games here, in part because of the effort and things Jeremy Smith has brought to the table, so I don't ever want that to be lost.”
Roland said Monday that he was sore after Saturday's heavy workload. But he's ready to be called upon in that role again. His mom, Carolyn, is even making the drive from Dallas to Lubbock to see her son in action when the Cowboys face Texas Tech on Saturday night.
Singleton wouldn't exactly commit to Roland remaining the starter, insisting that he wants constant competition between Roland, Smith and true freshman Rennie Childs throughout practice this week. The coach also emphasized that starting a game doesn't mean finishing it, as evidenced by Childs' emergence down the stretch against TCU.
But if Roland again has the mojo, Singleton certainly won't mess with it.
“Desmond Roland was the best back we had on the field (against Iowa State),” Singleton said. “Does that mean that's gonna be the case next Saturday? No. Not at all.
“But if it does, he'll keep rolling.”