NCF Nation: Earl Campbell
While Billy Sims took in an Oklahoma practice this preseason, another Red River legend came to his mind whenever he watched freshman Samaje Perine.
“The strength, the power, the way he ran over people, it kept reminding me of Earl Campbell back in the day,” said Sims, who the Heisman Trophy for the Sooners in 1978, a year after Campbell won it at Texas in 1977.
Perine is no Earl Campbell yet.
But he’s off to an Earl Campbell-like start to his career.
Perhaps just as impressive, Perine carried the ball 34 times and afterward looked like as if he had done nothing more than taken a light morning jog.
“He works so hard with his conditioning and training,” coach Bob Stoops said. “He’s a guy that can handle all those carries. At the end of the game he wasn’t all that taxed. I saw him get on the bus and he looked great. He’s exceptional in his conditioning and his strength. He’s physically gifted that way.”
Like Campbell used to do to opposing defenses in the 1970s, Perine wore the West Virginia defenders down as they bounced off him like pingpong balls. While the Mountaineers' resolve to tackle him began to wane in the second half, Perine seemed to get stronger, as he finished with 84 of his rushing yards in the fourth quarter.
“He was able to sustain it for four quarters,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “That tells you what kind of shape he’s in.”
The emergence of Perine, who now leads the Big 12 with 419 rushing yards and five touchdowns, has left the Oklahoma offense in great shape, too, heading into the heart of the schedule. After the open week this weekend, the Sooners face three of the toughest front sevens in the league in TCU, Texas and Kansas State. But this Oklahoma rushing offense is beginning to smack of the Barry Switzer days when the Sooners could run right through opponents when they wanted to.
“I was glad to see the ground-and-pound game,” Sims said. “Let the big guys up front eat and the backs do their thing.”
The big guys up front ate well again after the game, too, courtesy of Perine. Showing he doesn’t just have physical maturity, Perine ordered pizzas for the entire offensive line Sunday.
“We were watching film, and he just walked right in and set the boxes of pizza down and walked out,” center Ty Darlington said. “That’s who he is.”
Though Perine was one of the major storylines in college football over the weekend, he wasn’t even the most highly touted running back in Oklahoma’s signing class. Joe Mixon, suspended for the year for an altercation before the season, was viewed as the gem of the recruiting class, with offers from every major program in the country. Perine, who hailed from the Austin, Texas, suburb of Pflugerville, didn’t even receive an offer from Campbell's Longhorns as he recovered from a knee injury his junior year and barely averaged double-digit carries his senior season for Hendrickson High School.
The Sooners, however, always felt Perine was a unique talent.
“He’s a very special player,” Stoops said. “We felt that all along in the recruiting process. We loved him. Physically, he’s so powerful and strong. He’s also got great vision, great speed. He’s got hands."
While Sims invoked Campbell to describe Perine, Stoops didn’t hesitate to compare Perine's immediate impact to other great runners to pass through Norman in recent years like Quentin Griffin and Adrian Peterson.
“Samaje, his performance the other night, was as good as any of those in one game,” Stoops said. “I believe he’ll continue to add on to it. He’s a similar player like that. He’s unusual in that his size and power are different than maybe anyone else we’ve had.
“We’ll see if he can continue to build on it.”
Sims, however, is a believer that will happen.
“After watching him in practice, what he’s doing now, it doesn’t surprise me,” Sims said. “Oklahoma is known for great running backs. He has the potential to be the next."
Picking Oklahoma State's best, for example, could not have been easier. Same with Baylor and Texas Tech. But Texas presented a bit of a challenge.
After much research and debate, Vince Young's 2005 campaign was ultimately selected to represent the Longhorns. In fact, Young's national championship year earned the No. 6 spot in the 16-man bracket to determine the very best of The Season.
But there were a handful of other Texas players legitimately worthy of consideration. Was VY the right choice? Be sure to vote in this poll, especially if you disagree.
A rundown of the résumés for a few more Longhorns we debated for The Season:
RB Earl Campbell, 1977: Won the Heisman Trophy after rushing for 1,744 yards (breaking UT and Southwest Conference records) and 18 touchdowns. Campbell led the Longhorns to a perfect 11-0 regular season and was All-America in every sense, leading the NCAA in rushing, scoring and all-purpose yards. He eclipsed 100 rushing yards in 10 games and put up 222 yards and three scores in the regular-season finale against Texas A&M. The Tyler Rose had the superior career, but was this season by itself better than Young's best?
RB Ricky Williams, 1998: Won the Heisman Trophy and set 21 NCAA records by dashing for 2,124 yards and 27 TDs. Williams led the nation in rushing for a second straight season, broke Tony Dorsett's 22-year-old NCAA all-time rushing record with 6,279 career yards and became the first two-time winner of the Doak Walker Award -- all in Mack Brown's first season at Texas. He snapped Nebraska's 47-game home win streak with a 150-yard performance and became the first to surpass 300 rushing yards twice in one season.
QB Colt McCoy, 2008: He guided Texas to the BCS title game in 2009, but McCoy's 2008 campaign was more impressive, especially statistically. The Heisman Trophy runner-up threw for 3,859 yards and 34 TDs with just eight INTs and completed an NCAA-record 76.7 percent of his passes. He also led the Longhorns in rushing (561 yards, 11 TDs) and broke Young's single-season record for total yardage along with school records for passing yards, TDs and passer rating. Texas went 12-1 and capped McCoy's junior year with a win over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
QB James Street, 1969: The numbers would not wow today's audience, but Street was a big-time playmaker who led Texas to a perfect season and a national championship. He finished with 699 passing yards and three TDs plus 412 yards and five rushing TDs, but he won't be remembered for those stats. He'll go down in Longhorn lore for his fourth-down pass completion to seal No. 1 Texas' comeback victory over No. 2 Arkansas in the Game of the Century. He went on to beat No. 9 Notre Dame for the title and went 20-0 as Texas' starting quarterback.
And there's not really anything you can do about it.
Utah has won five of six and four in a row and -- after an 0-4 start in Pac-12 play -- has a decent chance of winning the Pac-12 South Division. It needs to beat Colorado (likely) on Friday and hope Arizona State loses to California (possible) and UCLA loses to USC (likely).
What has been the key to the turnaround? John White.
Let's quantify that. During those five wins, White averaged 34.6 carries. He's a first-year junior-college transfer. He's hardly more seasoned than a freshman. He's just 5-foot-8, 186 pounds. He's not exactly Earl Campbell. And yet he's carried the ball 280 times this year, 39 more times than anyone else. Oregon running back LaMichael James led the Pac-10 with 294 carries last year. White is almost certain to exceed 300 before a bowl game.
White had 36 carries for 171 yards against Pittsburgh. The Utes passed for 127 yards. He had 205 yards on 35 carries against Oregon State. The Utes passed for 62 yards. He had 42 carries for 186 yards against Washington State. The Utes passed for 172 yards.
Get the point? Since starting QB Jordan Wynn went down, the Utes' offense has taken an extremely conservative approach. The Utes rank last in the Pac-12 and 101st in the nation in passing yards per game with 170.4.
It's been about John White left, John White right, John White up the middle. Repeat. And it's worked. The Utes are 7-0 when White eclipses 100 yards rushing, 0-4 when he doesn't.
Meanwhile, White is re-writing the Utes record book. His 14 rushing TDs already has tied a team record. He's rushed for 1,377 yards -- his 125.2 yards per game ranks eighth in the nation -- and needs 131 yards to set the single-season school rushing mark, breaking Carl Monroe's record of 1,507 set in 1982.
White was a solid prospect out of South Torrance (Calif.) High. He was heavily recruited by Oregon before going to L.A. Harbor College because he didn't qualify academically. A bevy of programs from across the country pursued him after he rushed for 1,491 yards and averaged 8.1 yards per carry for L.A. Harbor, earning Central West Conference Offensive Player of the Year. But few expected White to immediately become a candidate for first-team All-Pac-12.
And that includes White, who's as understated as his name.
"I am surprised, I'm not going to lie," he said. "I came out of spring kind of iffy."
He's iffy no longer. UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said White was the best running back the Bruins faced (33 carries, 167 yards, 2 TDs). While James and Washington's Chris Polk are the conference's best known backs, White has made as big, if not bigger, an impact without the supporting cast those two have.
"He's not a real big guy but he is tough and he's got great quickness," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "What really separated him as a good runner is his great vision."
And toughness. Said Whittingham, "He is one of the mentally toughest and physically toughest players I've ever coached."
That's because he faces defenses geared to stop him -- eight, nine and sometimes 10 guys packed along the line of scrimmage. Sometimes they do. But he almost always gets away at least once. In nine of 12 games this season, he has produced at least one run of 18 or more yards. In five games, he's produced at least one run of 30 or more yards.
Whittingham, a longtime defensive coach and coordinator before taking over the Utes, said it's "demoralizing" for a defense when it knows what's coming but can't stop it.
"If you load the box and people are just knocking you off the ball, it's a feeling of helplessness," he said.
So White's name isn't fancy like God Shammgod or Leonidas Thermopylae or World B. Free. But you're going to know it. Because you're going to hear it over and over again.
Including when the All-Pac-12 team comes out.
Maybe Cedric Benson, Ricky Williams or Earl Campbell weren’t coming back any time soon. But it still was a signal that the Longhorns hadn’t ditched their traditional running attack completely and could still move the ball on the ground when they needed to.
The installation of Cody Johnson as the starter and Newton as the speedy backup is indicative that Mack Brown has turned to two precocious but talented parts of his stable of backs for a late-season lift.
“We needed balance and we felt we could do a few things with Cody and Tre’,” Brown said. “They both stepped up. We feel our offense can be really good if we are balanced.”
With 224 yards rushing and 187 yards passing against the Bears, the Longhorns had more rushing yardage than passing yardage for only the second time all season.
“Basically, running the ball was our No. 1 concern,” said Johnson, who was the fourth different Longhorn to start at tailback this season. "Of course, we can still pass the ball, but we put a huge focus on running the ball and being more effective when we were out there. And I think the way we did it opened up a lot of eyes out there.”
Brown has yet to identify a featured back. But he appears to have growing comfort in the “Thunder and Lightning” tailback tandem of Johnson and Newton to perhaps alternate in that role.
Newton, who rushed for 80 yards, has been installed as the team’s primary backup heading into Saturday’s game against Kansas. It’s a signal, Brown said, that the team’s rushing attack appears “headed in the right direction.”
“Every time we’ve put Cody in, he’s made yards,” Brown told reporters earlier this week. “And when Tre’s in, he’s made yards, too.”
Running the ball had been a real concern for the Longhorns, who had produced only 297 rushing yards on 100 carries in their three previous games before playing Baylor.
A simplified playbook that relied on a handful of running plays helped spark the Longhorns to an impressive 6.4 yards-per-carry average against Baylor. It was their best performance against any conference foe this season.
Johnson had struggled with problems with his weight before finally rounding into shape over the last several weeks. His bullish running style appears to improve with the more carries he receives. He gained 109 yards after notching a career-best 19 carries last week.
“Backs I’ve been around like Ricky [Williams] and Cedric [Benson], they got better and better the more snaps they got,” Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis said. “They would see things, lather up and really get going. I think the same started happening for Cody after we got him going.”
Newton had been hobbled since sustaining a concussion in a victory against Colorado last month. After a recovery of several weeks, it appears he is nearing peak performance.
"It feels good being back," Newton said. "It's always frustrating when you can't help your team. You have to stay focused and just be ready to help out when you get your chance."
Together, their divergent talents provide a good combination in the Texas backfield.
“Cody is just a beast out there -- he’s so physical,” Texas guard Charlie Tanner said. “And Tre’ is awesome. You give him an extra second and he’s gone. He has a great burst and can just run by people if you give him a chance.”
The Texas offense will remain centered on McCoy and the passing game. But the development of Johnson and Newton gives the Longhorns hope of balance that had been missing much of the season.
“This shows the world we can actually run the ball,” Johnson said. “It’s not just the passing game. We can actually line up and run the ball. And now, they have to respect both the run and the pass when they play us.”
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Thanks for squeezing in a few minutes for some lunch links during the basketball games today. Hopefully, these will be more interesting than a couple of early 2-15 blowouts.
Here are some of the more notable Big 12 stories people are talking about.
Enjoy them -- and the basketball games, too.
- The Bryan Eagle's Robert Cessna wonders how many fans really will shell out $300 a ticket -- not including parking -- to watch Arkansas and Texas A&M play this season in the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium in Arlington, Texas.
- Boulder Daily Camera beat writer Kyle Ringo writes about how busy Colorado cornerback Benjamin Burney has been over the last year. Burney has recovered from surgery and rehabilitation on five different body parts, written a 500-page book and is in the process of shooting a full-length movie.
- The College Football News' Pete Fiutak writes that Dan Hawkins and Bill Snyder are among coaches who need to "get their mojo back" this season.
- Sheahon Zenger, a finalist for the Kansas State athletic director's job and a former member of coach Bill Snyder's support staff, has some definite ideas in life. Zenger tells the Topeka Capital-Journal's Austin Meek that he worries about the declining newspaper industry and says that every married man should watch "The Family Man" at least once a year.
- Missouri is trying to overcome extreme youth in its defensive line as it compensates for three missing starters from last season, the Columbia Daily Tribune's Dave Matter writes.
- Rich Kaipust of the Omaha World-Herald analyzes the difficulties that former Nebraska quarterbacks have had after transferring away from the school.
- The Houston Chronicle, consistently one of the area's top Web sites as far as bells and whistles, provides an innovative multimedia presentation of the 13 retired jersey numbers in Texas athletic history. Football players included on the list include Ricky Williams, Vince Young, Tommy Nobis, Earl Campbell and Bobby Layne.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Here's a lunchtime fix of the top stories from across the Big 12 this morning. Enjoy them.
- Another week, another monster Big 12 game. The Kansas City Star's Blair Kerkhoff breaks downs the ramifications of the Texas-Texas Tech game on Saturday, as well as his always tasty package of conference nuggets.
- The Omaha World-Herald's Tom Shatel wonders why a special dinner Friday night honoring former Nebraska and Oklahoma players is being held behind closed doors.
- Texas cornerback Curtis Brown got the first start of his career last week against Dez Bryant of Oklahoma State. His reward this week, the Houston Chronicle's Joseph Duarte reports, is a date against Texas Tech Biletnikoff Award winner Michael Crabtree.
- Texas A&M is building for the future with seven freshman starters this season and nine freshmen who have seen substantial action, San Antonio Express-News beat writer Brent Zwerneman writes.
- The Tulsa World's Matt Doyle writes about how Oklahoma State tailback Kendall Hunter has been exceeding expectations all of his life. In high school, Hunter broke Earl Campbell's school record at John Tyler High School in Tyler, Texas. And this season, he's become only the second sophomore in OSU history to rush for 1,000 yards, joining Thurman Thomas.
- John Helsley of the Oklahoman writes about the collapse of the Oklahoma defense since Ryan Reynolds was injured against Texas.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Six Big 12 teams made the Associated Press Top 25 poll and the USA Today coaches' poll Sunday.
Speaking of six, here's a late-afternoon snack of six links that will keep your stomach from growling too much before dinner. Enjoy them.
- Texas QB Colt McCoy never rubs the Heisman Trophy earned by Ricky Williams or Earl Campbell. But he does acknowledge the mystical presence of the Longhorns' national championship trophies, Austin American-Statesman columnist Kirk Bohls blogs.
- With six teams among the nation's top 25 after Sunday, the Dallas Morning News' Chuck Carlton writes that the challenge will remain immense to stay there.
- Nebraska players are angry after squandering a chance at beating Virginia Tech because of uncharacteristic mistakes and penalties.
- Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News writes that the Big 12 is jam-packed with positives heading into conference play this weekend.
- Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy is proud but unaffected after his team cracked the top 25 for the first time in his coaching tenure.
- Even without DeMarcus Granger, Oklahoma's defensive line had a dominating performance against TCU.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
Few schools have the rich historical base of Texas. And that's why the recent addition at Darrell K. Royal/Texas Memorial Stadium is so neat.
School officials have installed an exhibit in the stadium's north end zone that will list and honor the five retired numbers in the school's football history. Players who have been honored include Vince Young, Ricky Williams, Bobby Layne, Earl Campbell and Tommy Nobis.
Other schools have done this. I always have a fond remembrance of the past when I see Johnny Roland's or Kellen Winslow's number at Faurot Field or Rashaan Salaam at Folsom Field. It's a great way to recall the past.
I'm still waiting for some school to erect its own version of Monument Park like I saw at Yankee Stadium. Walking up to the bronze plaques of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle left me with a lump in my throat. And I don't even like the New York Yankees.
Here's hoping that the Texas architects have arranged for these retired numbers to be prominently displayed where it will occasionally be noticeable on television broadcasts and be clear enough for people in the stadium. Because schools need to remember great players and their history.
And hopefully, these links will be as similarly cherished in 50 years.
- Colorado G Devin Head has adopted a scruffy, unkempt look. He's done it to honor the wife of his former high school coach, who recently died from breast cancer.
- Iowa State will generate more than $2.4 million in new revenue after the addition of new luxury boxes and club seating at Jack Trice Stadium. Only one of the 47 new suites remains unsold.
- Kansas coach Mark Mangino announced that redshirt freshmen Jeff Spikes and Jeremiah Hatch will be his starting offensive tackles for the Jayhawks Aug. 30 opener against Florida International. Spikes, who will replace Outland Trophy finalist Anthony Collins, might be the most adept 300-pound-plus saxophonist this side of Clarence Clemons.
- Veteran Lawrence Journal-World sports columnist Tom Keegan writes that Kansas QB Todd Reesing throws the most accurate ball in practice he's seen since he watched Troy Aikman at UCLA.
- "Mad" Mike DeArmond of the Kansas City Star takes a clue from Alfred E. Neuman in his most recent video log as he breaks down several recent calamities that have hit Missouri.
- Heralded RB Jocques Crawford took most of his repetitions Friday with Kansas' first-string offensive unit. And Mangino isn't bemoaning his depth although he's working with only four scholarship running backs.
- Missouri coach Gary Pinkel tells the Columbia Daily Tribune's Dave Matter he can tell a difference in his team's attitude after watching the end of another intense practice. "About six years ago, hardly anyone would have cared who won those things," Pinkel told Matter. "Now it's like venom. They're in attack mode."
- After producing a Big 12-worst 13 sacks last season, new Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini is intent on juicing production in his pass rush.
- The Oklahoman reports that former Oklahoma WR Josh Jarboe isn't currently eligible at Troy. Oklahoma officials said they didn't refuse Jarboe admission, meaning that Jarboe now is being treated as a transfer student, Troy coach Larry Blakeney said.
- WR William Cole will miss the upcoming season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. The Oklahoman's Scott Wright analyzes the Cowboys' options after his injury.
- Tulsa World beat writer John Hoover reports that Oklahoma TE junior Jermaine Gresham isn't giving much consideration to jumping to the NFL after this season. That would be good news for Bob Stoops, after losing four players early to the NFL in his last two seasons.
- Missouri QB Chase Daniel tells Terrance Harris of the Houston Chronicle that unfinished business brought him back to Missouri for his senior season.
- Dallas Morning News columnist Chuck Carlton had a great line describing Texas high school relations and player development director Ken Rucker, calling him Jiminy Cricket in burnt orange.
- Speaking of mirth and whimsy, Texas Tech's new "Elf" formation has been developed to get the ball in diminutive WR Eric Morris' hands more often.
- Texas A&M DT Lucas Patterson might be unassuming, but he's emerging as his team's most underrated player. "Lucas is quiet, and so people tend to overlook him," A&M defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt told Brent Zwerneman of the San Antonio Express-News. "That's a mistake."
- Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman is remembering his roots, reaching out to 50 retired high school coaches and retired college assistants he invited to practices this weekend.
- Missouri K Jeff Wolfert, who has a streak of 16 consecutive field goals, is getting some rest in training camp. Coaches are limiting his kickoff duties to keep him fresh for the Tigers' Aug. 30 opener against Illiniois in St. Louis.
- Freshman WR Kendall Wright is making a successful transition after a stellar career as a high school quarterback. And he tells the Waco Tribune Herald's John Werner he plans to join the Baylor basketball team after the football season ends.
- Kansas announced its 2009 football schedule, with non-conference home games against Southern Mississippi, D
uke and Northern Colorado and a road game at UTEP. Site for the "Border War" game against Missouri remains undetermined, although it's slated to be a home game for the Jayhawks.