From their first meeting, Rhamondre Stevenson thought DeMarco Murray would thrive as Oklahoma’s running backs coach.
“I just knew he was going to be great,” Stevenson said.
The OU senior tailback might be somewhat biased in his evaluation. He grew up a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, where Murray starred for four seasons and won the Associated Press’ 2014 NFL Offensive Player of the Year award.
Murray’s coaching seems to be working out well for Stevenson, who’s averaging 8.0 yards each carry and has five touchdowns in two appearances.
"The most he's helped me out is the reading of the defenses and just knowing what's going to happen before it happens,” Stevenson said, “and just instilling that I need to run hard and finish plays.”
T.J. Pledger seems to have also benefited from Murray, who OU coach Lincoln Riley hired in January.
Pledger emerged as OU's go-to rushing option over the first half of the season, rushing for 393 yards, five TDs and 4.9 yards per carry.
Pledger’s reliability was important while Stevenson served a five-game suspension to open the 2020 season.
Stevenson was still happy to cheer on Pledger, who played just a limited role last season.
“I’ve seen him getting better and better since last year,” Stevenson said. “And I don’t think he’s playing up to his full potential. Like, he hasn’t shown you his best yet. Neither have I or anybody else in the running back room. I think we’ve got a lot more in store that you guys don’t know about.”
The OU running backs will test their growth against a stout Oklahoma State defense, which has allowed five rushing touchdowns (first in the Big 12) and 142.2 rushing yards per game (fifth in the Big 12).
If they’re anything like their position coach, who finished his OU playing career undefeated against the Cowboys, they should be just fine.
• Low demand: Riley, nor any coach, hopes he won’t need to rely on his punt team in a big game.
If the Sooner offense sputters more often than he would like, OU will at least have an experienced leg to rely on in junior Reeves Mundschau.
Mundschau has averaged 38.4 yards a punt, which is marginally down from last season, and only one punt of 50-or-more yards this season — he had eight in 2019.
Mundschau still has the confidence of Riley, who admitted his punter's had some kicks get away from him but gotten stronger since his sophomore season.
“I honestly think he’s hit the ball better this year and has done a better job of locating the football where we want him to locate it,” Riley said. “I think he’s improved, and the fact that he’s done that in a lot of big games and big atmospheres and big moments is certainly a plus for us in this game.”
• Level-headed: OU fullback Jeremiah Hall was asked how redshirt freshman quarterback Spencer Rattler has handled success and adversity.
Hall, who’s seen four different starting quarterbacks since arriving to OU in 2017, said Rattler deals with both well and compared his poise to OU’s 2018 Heisman Trophy winner, Kyler Murray.
“He kind of reminds me of Kyler,” Hall said. “Kyler was never too high or too low. And Spencer typically has that same mindset. Obviously, he celebrates the touchdowns and is happy when we make a play and things like that, but it's never over the top and it's never somewhat nervous or anything like that. He's pretty right in the middle and I think he does a good job of displaying confidence and continuing to make plays on the field for us.”