Oklahoma RB Samaje Perine embraces role as closer
NORMAN, Okla. (AP) The hype around Samaje Perine has dissipated.
The Heisman Trophy talk for No. 10 Oklahoma has shifted from Oklahoma’s bruising 230-pound running back to Baker Mayfield, the quarterback with big numbers and a flair for the dramatic. Perine isn’t getting as many carries now that new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley has installed his Air Raid attack.
Perine has nonetheless embraced his role of closer for the 10th-ranked Sooners. He has gained exactly half of his 328 yards this season after the end of the third quarter of the past three games.
”I’m used as the clock manager when we want to run out some time,” Perine said. ”I just try to stay inbounds and get as many yards as I can and run the clock out.”
He could get another chance to finish off an opponent on Saturday when the Sooners (4-0) face Texas (1-4) in their annual rivalry game.
Perine rumbled for 1,713 yards last season, the second-highest total ever for an Oklahoma freshman and the sixth-highest for a Bowl Subdivision freshman. He set the FBS single-game record with 427 yards against Kansas.
Even in a pass-heavy offense, Riley recognizes the luxury of having such a tough, accomplished runner to unleash late in games. Perine averages 3.3 yards per carry in the first half, and 5.5 yards per carry in the second.
Part of that success comes because Joe Mixon is sharing the load early. Perine has 42 carries to Mixon’s 21 in the first three quarters, but Perine has 30 carries to Mixon’s six in the fourth quarter and overtime.
”His style wears on people,” Riley said of Perine. ”Not saying it takes him a little while to get going, but I think you see him really shine at the end when people are worn down and he can muscle people.”
Perine entered the fourth quarter against Tennessee with 13 carries for 33 yards but had 10 carries for 45 yards the rest of the way. He had 10 carries for 59 yards through three quarters against Tulsa before rumbling for 93 yards on 12 carries in the fourth. On Oklahoma’s final drive against West Virginia, he had six carries for 23 yards and helped the Sooners run off almost four minutes.
Most important to Riley, he did it all in wins.
”You’ve got to be able to close games,” Riley said. ”We’ve been able to do it a couple times this year already. Still not where we want to be with it, but it’s nice knowing if the guys up front for us on the staff calling the plays to know that those guys, it doesn’t have to be blocked up exactly perfect, or it doesn’t have to be necessarily a perfect call.”
Perine has adjusted to Riley’s offense. He dropped 20 pounds in the offseason. He already has seven catches this season after hauling in 15 passes all last season. His touchdown reception in the fourth quarter against Tennessee was a key to the team’s signature victory to date.
He’s running behind an offensive line that has three new starters. The two most experienced linemen, center Ty Darlington and guard Nila Kasitati, have fought injuries. Perine believes there’s more to come if the line and backs continue to grow together and start doing the same damage early in games that they are doing late.
”Once that happens and once we keep chugging away at the running game, then eventually that’s going to pop, and then defenses won’t know what to do,” he said.
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