NORMAN — Oklahoma did what it was supposed to do in Saturday’s season opener against Louisiana Tech. The fourth-ranked Sooners took control from the start and routed overmatched Louisiana Tech 48-16 on Owen Field.
But perhaps the biggest question facing this team — which harbors legitimate national championship hopes — was this: Who would make plays in a backfield severely lacking in experience?
Keith Ford, Alex Ross and Samaje Perine took steps to answer that against the Bulldogs, combining for 33 carries, 164 yards and five touchdowns. Ford was also the team’s leading receiver Saturday, hauling in four receptions for 65 yards.
Perine, a true freshman, led the group with 13 rushes and 77 yards, and boldly proclaimed after the victory, “I think we are one of the strongest — if not the strongest — running back groups that’s ever come through Oklahoma.”
Let’s tap the breaks a little. This is the same program that produced runners like Adrian Peterson, Billy Sims, Joe Washington and Greg Pruitt. And the current crop was the least-experienced group of running backs entering any season of the 16-year Bob Stoops era.
Oklahoma’s running back situation seemed even more precarious after five-star freshman Joe Mixon — thought by many to be an Adrian Peterson-type talent — was lost before fall camp even started. Mixon is serving a year-long suspension while he faces a misdemeanor charge for allegedly punching a female OU student in a late-night confrontation last month.
Ross, a former Jenks standout, started Saturday’s game and caught a swing pass on OU’s first offensive snap, picking up 15 yards. He carried the ball on three of the Sooners’ next four snaps before giving way to Ford, a sophomore who rushed for a 22-yard touchdown on his first carry.
Ford added a second touchdown at the end of the first quarter.
Ross scored on a 1-yard power play near the end of the first half, then added an 8-yard touchdown on the first drive of the third quarter.
Perine, a Pflugerville, Texas, product who was largely overshadowed in Oklahoma’s 2014 recruiting class by Mixon, scored his lone touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Ford also showed off his hands, with receptions of 28 and 18 yards in the third quarter.
“All three of those guys can catch the ball,” said quarterback Trevor Knight. “They are multiple guys and they can run the ball in between the tackles, and can get out and line up and run some routes too. It’s nice to have those type of guys out there.”
Another impressive aspect of the Sooners’ run game? Zero fumbles among the running backs.
Ford played some as a true freshman, but his snaps became fewer and further between after he developed an ugly fumbling habit midway through the season.
“We’re all very talented and we can all contribute,” Ford said. “Coaches told us we were going to run the ball tonight. We were gonna run it down their throats.
“It showed what all three of us can do. … It just showed that we’re a young group, but we’re very talented.”