"It's a great luxury to have when you don't have to take as many reps because of the depth," receiver Tracy Moore said. "It keeps everybody fresh and that's worked great for our backs."
Boy, has it ever.
Three teams have tried to take away the pass and all three — Texas, Missouri and Baylor — paid for it dearly.
Texas held quarterback Brandon Weeden to a season-low 218 passing yards and one touchdown, a successful defensive showing by any measure against OSU's passing machine. However, the Longhorns couldn't put enough men in the box to stop the running game and Smith gashed them for 140 yards and two touchdowns on just seven carries — seven. That was good for 20 yards per touch. Randle also chipped in a workmanlike 68 yards and a touchdown on 4.0 yards per carry.
The very next week, Missouri was thrashed by OSU's passing game in the first quarter plus and made the necessary adjustments to slow it down. But they couldn't stop the run after that as Randle went for 138 yards and four touchdowns (one receiving) on 9.9 yards per carry with Smith adding 71 yards on 5.5 per touch.
And we saw it again with Baylor, who dropped as many as eight men into coverage at times, interspersed with blitz packages to try to get to Weeden. Randle took advantage, carrying the ball 14 times for 152 yards and four touchdowns on 10.9 a carry, and somehow that 10.9 was a team-worst performance. Freshman Herschel Sims had eight carries for 104 yards and a touchdown on 13 yards a carry and Smith had 77 yards on just three carries — good for a 25.7 average.
The OSU passing attack is what most teams fear — and for good reason — as it ranks No. 4 nationally with 383.6 yards per game, but the Cowboys' No. 41 rushing attack is vastly underrated. The Cowboys establish the run off of the pass and it's worked. Randle has 135 carries on the year for 842 yards on 6.2 yards per carry with 16 touchdowns. His yards rank 22nd nationally but only four backs have a better yards-per-carry average and Randle ranks fourth in touchdowns.
Smith has also flourished in his role, having amassed 502 yards and seven touchdowns on 7.5 yards per carry. Also, Sims is averaging 8.4 yards a touch in a limited role.
While the threat the passing attack presents is a big reason why the run game is so efficient, the other reason is having two backs capable of being starters almost anywhere else in the country.
"It's definitely a great blessing to have those two guys back there," Moore said. "I played with Jeremy in high school (at Tulsa Union) and it was the same thing. Guys would double team me and try to not make something for us work but when they do that all you have to do is hand the ball off because it seems like they're going to get loose every time, especially when they focus on the receivers or blitz. It's just amazing that Jeremy can have under five carries and over 50 yards almost every game. He and Joe are just so consistent that it's hard to stop them."
And they're putting up yards despite not getting the traditional workload of a starter.
Only three times this season has a Cowboy back carried the ball 20 times or more, all three were Randle with a season-high of 25 against Tulsa. Smith's season-high is 13 in the same game.
While Weeden acknowledged that both are talented enough to receive more touches, he said that's all part of the team-first mentality but Randle has blown him away the past two weeks.
"The dude is a stud," Weeden said. "He's done so well that I've just lost track. I thought he had three touchdowns and didn't know he had four until I saw the stats. The guy is just scoring touchdowns at a crazy rate the past few weeks. I think he's really hitting his stride. He's really comfortable.
"The crazy thing is that he's putting up those numbers and we're not even using him in all the ways that we can. I don't think we've tapped into Joseph Randle's full potential yet. He's unbelievable and it's fun to share a backfield with him."
Maximizing Randle and Smith's full potential will come in time, as both still have two years of eligibility remaining and they'll have fresh legs to carry them. And as sophomore linebacker Shaun Lewis said, it's hard to argue with the results so far.
"They may not get feature back carries but they get feature back yards," Lewis said. "I'd say that pretty much proves it's working … They're fun to watch."