It seems unfitting to be writing an article with this title while just two months ago, Samaje Perine was on preseason Heisman watch-lists. After a huge freshman campaign, it seems as if Perine possibly has hit a sophomore slump. Although the passing game and defense have looked good thus far, Oklahoma needs that extra edge of Perine if it has hopes of a nine or 10-win season.
As a freshman in 2014, Perine rushed for a conference-best 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns while also breaking the single-game rushing record with 427 yards against Kansas.
As said in an earlier article about Perine, he “showed a gradual success as the season continued, averaging 8.56 yards per carry and 10 touchdowns in his last four games. He appeared to be tougher and stronger, busting straight up the gut of defenses and breaking tackles against strong defensive lines like Clemson and Oklahoma State… Although he only had five carries against Baylor and couldn’t get much to work in the first three games of the season, Perine still rushed for over 1,700 yards with 21 touchdowns — promising numbers the Sooners haven’t seen since Adrian Peterson.”
This year, however, Perine has struggled to get anything going. Through five games, he has gained 364 yards on 82 attempts plus three touchdowns. His only big game was against Tulsa when he had 152 yards and a touchdown. Other than that, he is seeing fewer carries and certainly not as many big rushes as last year.
In the depressing loss to Texas last week, it became evident that Oklahoma will need a better Perine from here-on-out. He had 36 yards on 10 carries Saturday, marking his fourth game of the season with 78 yards or less.
There are a few reasons why Perine hasn’t gotten the ball as much this season, and it starts with a new offensive system. New offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley brought in the air-raid offense to Oklahoma this season, resulting in fewer runs for the sophomore.
According to cfbstats.com, 156 of Perine’s 328 rushes have come in the fourth quarter or overtime. The Sooners seem to use him mostly in time-management situations or short-down conversions. Other factors include the outbreak of quarterback Baker Mayfield, the addition of Joe Mixon, and the inexperienced offensive line.
“If we’re putting up points on the board, I’m happy,” Perine said. “I don’t care about anything else.”
Well, that’s the thing. Oklahoma was averaging almost 42.4 points per game at this time last season when Perine was a much bigger factor. Now, the Sooners are averaging 37.0 points per game and struggled to put up 17 against a weak Texas team.
In its upcoming games, Oklahoma faces three teams in the national top 50 of rushing defenses (Kansas State, Baylor, West Virginia). It will be difficult to run the ball against a lot of these teams, but an All-Big 12 running back can compliment the successful passing game, creating more offense unlike the 278 total yards last week.
The logic of “we had success running the ball last year so let’s try passing this season” may come to bite Oklahoma in the butt. Granted, Perine hasn’t looked as powerful or explosive behind this weaker offensive line, but he still has the capability to put up 200-yard/multiple touchdown games if he is fed the football.