Balanced Oklahoma offense ranks No. 2 nationally in rushing

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              Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts runs in for a touchdown during the first half of the team's NCAA college football game against UCLA on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — If you listen to Lincoln Riley, you might think Oklahoma’s running game is a mess.

The Sooners coach often said the offensive line needs to improve and the ground attack is nowhere near where it should be.

Something is working, though. Oklahoma ranks No. 2 nationally in rushing with 324.3 yards per game heading into its Big 12 opener Saturday against Texas Tech.

Oklahoma’s ground game has helped spark an offense that averages a nation-leading 676.7 yards. The sixth-ranked Sooners (3-0) are averaging 8.3 yards per carry, yet Riley feels there is more out there.

“When you sit there as a coach and all the things we do, and you see where we are right now and think where we could get to potentially, there’s just such a big gap still,” Riley said. “The numbers would say there have been some good things, and there have, but it’s so far from perfect. We can’t even see perfect right now.”

Quarterback Jalen Hurts has been a key to the rushing success. In addition to leading the nation in passer efficiency rating, the senior ranks 10th nationally with 124.3 yards rushing per game. He set a school record for yards rushing by a quarterback in a first quarter with 103 against UCLA.

“As a runner, he is patient,” Riley said. “He’s got a good feel for blocking schemes and you can tell he’s carried the ball a number of times at this level, so he doesn’t panic.”

But Hurts has been a perfectionist, deflecting praise and focusing on the need to execute better. His mentality has carried over to the rest of the team.

“I really enjoy that from him,” center and co-captain Creed Humphrey said. “I’m kind of the same way. I don’t really pay attention to statistics. It’s all about doing your job to the best of your ability on every play. That’s his attitude toward everything. I love it.”

Hurts has a collection of talented backs behind him.

Trey Sermon leads the running backs with 198 yards and a score, with a 7.3-yard average. The junior has rushed for 1,898 yards in his career.

Junior college transfer Rhamondre Stevenson has rushed for 182 yards and three touchdowns and has an 8.7 average.

Kennedy Brooks, a preseason All-Big 12 running back, is fourth on the team with 177 yards rushing. The sophomore averages 10.4 yards per carry for the season and 9.7 yards per carry for his career.

T.J. Pledger has been out with a hand injury, and Riley said he could be back after the Texas Tech game.

Riley said quality depth, both at running back and on the offensive line, have been critical in helping the Sooners to maintain control when they have gotten ahead.

“We’ve been able to have some explosive runs in a lot of the games,” he said. “I think that’s been a big part of it. Our backs have carried the ball well. We’ve been able to keep those guys fresh. They’re extremely explosive. We’ve got some pretty good players in that room.”