OU football: Clay's career day came at opportune moment
The Oklahoma football team couldn’t establish the running game against Notre Dame’s powerful defensive line last week. But on Saturday, junior running back Brennan Clay exploded for a career-high 157 rushing yards to help lead the Sooners to a 35-20 win over Iowa State at Jack Thrice Stadium in Ames.
Prior to this year, Clay had been part of the running back rotation, rushing for a combined 111 attempts for a total of 401 yards and just one touchdown, hardly the numbers expected from a highly touted recruit who rushed for just more than 2,000 yards and 26 touchdowns during his senior year of high school.
And with the addition of transfer running backs Damien Williams and Dominique Whaley over the past two seasons, Clay slid further down the running back depth chart.
But Whaley still hasn’t returned from last season’s injury, and Williams was questionable going into the matchup against the Cyclones after sustaining an ankle injury against the Fighting Irish.
Those injuries put the ball in Clay’s hands, and the San Diego native didn’t waste his chance to shine.
On the Sooners’ first offensive series, Clay rushed for 13 yards on three carries to help get OU down to the ISU six yard line.
Although the drive stalled without any points after sophomore quarterback Blake Bell failed to convert the first down after two rushing attempts, Clay’s early success on the ground set up the running game that OU missed against Notre Dame.
After Iowa State edged the Sooners’ lead with a 19-yard rushing touchdown by Jarivs West, Clay did his most damage in the game, accounting for 41 yards on five plays including an 18-yard dash to the endzone that gave OU the 28-13 lead in the third quarter.
But more important than Clay’s individual performance was the demonstration of OU’s depth in offensive playmakers who can step up when injuries strike.
Williams took over as the Sooners’ leading rusher this year, netting 581 yards on 87 attempts and seven touchdowns so far — accounting for almost half of OU’s total ground yardage.
Going into Ames with the possibility of not having Williams’ ability to shed tackles created some questions marks as to how OU would be able to escape its one-dimensional offense that showed up in the game a week prior to the Iowa State matchup.
But Clay answered all of those questions and more.
While the 157-yard performance was a career-high for Clay, the consistent run production also helped senior quarterback Landry Jones establish the air attack that utilized nine different receivers in the 15-point victory.
Clay led all rushers during the game, averaging 6.5 yards per carry on 24 attempts and collected the Sooners’ only rushing touchdown.
Whether the performance solidified the junior’s position in the starting lineup or not, Clay’s success helped the Sooners’ when the team needed a player to step up to fill a vacated starting role.
And the Sooners will need players like Clay to help sustain OU’s productivity going down the stretch with no more bye weeks and four games left on OU’s regular season schedule.