There is a reason that Jamie has to eat a BBQ covered shirt. Or 200 CFA nuggets. Or do the one chip challenge. It’s not because he made a bad bet, it’s because he took a bad beat - in the form of OU’s Rodney Anderson.
The Sooners’ sophomore running back had quietly bided his time behind Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, and was a relative unknown outside of Norman for the first six games on the season. He hardly saw the field as a true freshman in 2015, seeing action in two games and recording just one carry before injuring himself against Tennessee. A year later was more of the same - he missed all of his second season after getting hurt in fall camp. He had just 11 carries through the first three games, netting a scant 32 yards and a single score, before missing the Baylor game and toting the rock just once in OU’s loss to Iowa State. But his production picked up in the Red River Rivalry, as he got his first double-digit carry day of the season, going 10/48 with a touchdown against a good Horns defense. He had a huge game against Kansas State a week later (19/147/1) and was even more impressive against the Red Raiders (24/181/1) as he established himself as the lead back behind Baker Mayfield. Anderson had his third straight 100+ yard day against Oklahoma State in Bedlam, and followed that up with a signature performance against TCU - a ghastly (if you’re a Frog fan) 23/151/2 on the ground with another 5/139/2 through the air - after recording just nine catches for 105 yards and two scores prior to that game in Norman. Though his last action, against Kansas, wasn’t quite as eye-popping, that was more because it didn’t need to be, as the Sooners ran away from the Jayhawks early and gave their starters most of the second half off.
So what it is about Rodney Anderson and how he matches up with TCU that made him so unstoppable a few weeks back? There are a couple factors to look at:
The Baker Mayfield Effect:
Obviously, life as a running back becomes a lot easier when you have an all-world QB slinging it in front of you. Not only is Baker a great passer, but he’s an excellent decision maker at the line. Time and time again, when he audibles into a running play, it’s the right call - and usually means that the offense has numbers and a significant advantage in the box. When an offensive line as good as OU’s catches a team outnumbered in the trenches, they can create massive holes. Look at this touchdown against TCU from the first matchup:
The right side of the line pulls and overwhelms a really good TCU defensive front to the point where they have a blocker nine yards from where Anderson first got the ball. There is a gaping hole, and poor Ben Banogu is just frozen as Rodney runs right by him.
In the passing game, the running back check down is a mobile QB’s best friend, and Mayfield used that to perfection against the Frogs in round one. As Mayfield scrambles around and keeps plays alive, he always keeps his eyes down field. Anderson excels at finding holes in the coverage, especially off of a blitz, and can break tackles and make guys miss once he gets the ball in open space. When Gary Patterson called for a blitz, Mayfield found his RB. And his running back made the most of those opportunities. Here’s a great example of that:
Baker is initially looking left, but is forced to roll to his right under pressure, and drops a little dump off to RA just a couple yards downfield. Some fancy footwork and some poor tackling later, he’s in the end zone.
Size and Strength:
Anderson is a big guy at 6’2” and 218 pounds, a load for linebackers that he outweighs. We know that Travin Howard was banged up in the first meeting, and Rodney certainly took advantage of that and ran through tackles and over linebackers all night in Norman.
Here, he beats Howard in coverage by a couple steps, and once securing the ball, drags him nine yards to the end zone. Howard is almost exactly the same size as Anderson, but it’s no contest:
On a running play, he sees three TCU players in the hole when he takes the hand-off:
Spoiler alert: he runs right over all of them.
Because of his size, you need bigger linebackers in the hole. But because of his ability to run routes and make catches, you need guys that can drop down in coverage, too. That means a fully healthy Travin Howard - who is as good a tackler in the conference when he’s at 100% - can make a world of difference for the Frogs Saturday morning.
While we have seen Anderson run over and through would-be tacklers, we haven’t given enough credit to his speed. Anderson ran a 4.41 coming out of high school, and though he was a bit smaller then, he doesn’t seem to have lost a step. He can break tackles and then add insult to injury by running away from guys, can create space as a receiver, and is dangerous when used in the return game as well. If he finds green, you’re not going to catch him often.
The perfect collection of all his talents on display comes from his game-winning touchdown against Kansas State earlier this season:
Anderson takes the hand-off and breaks left, looking to run off-tackle. But the Wildcats do a nice job of collapsing the OU offensive line, and force Anderson outside. At this point, it looks like he’s poised for a five yard loss:
But, he breaks a tackle and gets to the edge, where it’s off to the races instead. (poor #15 ends up on his head).
So, no point in even playing the game right? Can’t stop this guy anyway.
Not so fast, my friends. As I stated earlier, a healthy Travin Howard is the difference maker here. He can hold his own in pass coverage, or could be used as a spy to keep Baker in the pocket - something that means less opportunities for Anderson in the passing game. Having four quarters of Mat Boesen should help as well, as he has been a monster as a pass rusher and in the run game. Chris Bradley and Ross Blacklock should be able to hold there own in the middle of the line and close the gaps, and if Blacklock can draw a double team - something that most teams have done - that will help as well. And lest we forget Ty Summers, who has slid back to LB full-time and looks like his old self. Wrapping up on first contact, something that Summers generally excels at, and not letting DA pile up the YAC is a big key. And of course, getting out to a lead, instead of falling behind big early, would also help.
The Frogs won’t stop Rodney Anderson, but they can contain him. Guys like Justice Hill and Justin Crawford put up good stat lines against TCU, but their teams lost. If Anderson has 100 yards, instead of 300, the Frogs certainly have a shot at the upset.
And maybe Jamie won’t have to eat his shirt.