Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley could try to explain what makes freshman running back Kennedy Brooks see the field so well.
But, as Riley puts it, that makes little sense. So when Riley met with reporters ahead of this week’s Big 12 championship game against No. 14 Texas (9-3), he summed up why the former Mansfield standout has made an impact for the No. 5 Sooners (11-1).
“He seems the game differently than most backs do and has nice physical skills to go along with it,” Riley said on Monday.
Whatever Brooks is looking at has turned him into one of top offensive weapons in the nation.
Among players with at least 10 rushing attempts per game, Brooks leads the country with in average yards per carry (9.1). That average is also better than any of Oklahoma’s top rushers have posted in a single season — including Adrian Peterson, Billy Sims and Samaje Perine.
Going into the season, the Sooners were expecting junior Rodney Anderson and sophomore Trey Sermon to receive the bulk of the carries. After Anderson suffered a season-ending injury in the second game of the season, those plans changed.
But it still took some time for Brooks to work his way into the rotation. After four games, he had four total carries.
In Oklahoma’s game against Texas in October, Brooks only tallied three carries for 34 yards in a 48-45 loss at the Cotton Bowl, the Sooners’ lone loss this season.
By the end of the year, he and Sermon helped turn Oklahoma’s offense into one of the most formidable ones in the country.
Brooks has rushed for 100 yards or more in his last three games, including a season-high 182 yards in the Sooners’ win at CFP No. 16 West Virginia last weekend.
With how productive Oklahoma’s passing game has been under quarterback Kyler Murray, it can be easy to overlook the rushing attack. But after the Sooners’ 59-56 over the Mountaineers, Riley said the run game is a big reason why the team is successful away from Norman.
“You wanna look at one of the biggest keys why we’ve won 20 road games in a row, it’s because of majority of those, we’ve been able to run the football,” Riley after last Saturday’s win against West Virginia.
The second-year coach compared Brooks’ season to Anderson’s 2017 campaign, when he emerged as the Sooners’ top tailback in the middle of the season. But there are a couple of other parallels between the two men.
Like Anderson, Brooks a 4-star recruit coming out of high school was one of the top rushers in Texas during his days at Mansfield. And both had injuries early in their careers at Oklahoma.
Last year, Brooks suffered a shoulder injury during the preseason that forced him to redshirt the entire year. Anderson, who has already declared for the 2019 NFL draft, has been riddled with injuries after graduating from Katy High.
“Seeing him and what he did last year and being gone for a couple of years, it pushed me not to, like, get down and take it day-by-day,” Brooks told reporters earlier this year.
Now that he’s fully healthy, the 5-11 running back is on the cusp of being one of the most productive runners the Big 12 has seen in recent years.
And in a game Oklahoma needs to win to secure its fourth straight conference championship and a repeat trip to the College Football Playoff, Brooks will be one of the offensive weapons Riley and the Sooners will depend on.
“The moments have never been too big for him,” Riley said this week. “He’s always been a good enough player. He’s just one of those guys that’s taken advantage of his opportunities.”
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