Samaje Perine still difference maker for OU

The numbers aren't there, but it's clear Samaje Perine is still a major factor for Sooners.

He holds the single game FBS record for rushing yards in a game with 427 yards. He entered the season as the only legit Heisman candidate for Oklahoma.

But two games into the season, you could argue the three biggest plays running back Samaje Perine has made for the Sooners haven’t been running downhill and running over defenders.

Everybody knew Perine’s role in the offense was going to change with offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley running the show. He knew it. Perine is still being used, but it’s just a little different.

The numbers aren’t there. Perine only has 111 yards on 34 carries with a touchdown, but it’s clear he’s still making as big of an impression with his teammates doing what he’s doing now as he did trucking defenders last year.

“He is maybe the most unselfish player I’ve ever played with,” senior center Ty Darlington said. “It’s incredible. The guy holds the NCAA single-game rushing record, and he continues to not even ask for the ball.

“Not demand the ball. Not pout when he doesn’t get the ball. Instead, he wants to be put in whatever position gives us the best chance to have success.”

As it pertains to the 2015 season, it’s Perine the blocker who is making a name for himself. Perine was key in helping quarterback Baker Mayfield get the time to find running back Joe Mixon free down the sidelines on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter of OU’s 41-3 win against Akron.

Perine picked up the block, allowing Mayfield to let the play develop and hit Mixon with a strike for the 76-yard score.

That wasn’t the original call, said running backs coach Jay Boulware.

“He elected to be the fake guy because he knew he could do the fake better, and he knew Joe could go out and catch the ball better,” Boulware said. “That’s the type of unselfishness that this team has, and that’s exactly what we want. I know Samaje is a team player 100 percent.”

Never was that more on display than against Tennessee. Facing a fourth-and-goal at the 1 yard line in overtime and trailing the Vols 24-17. This was it. If OU didn’t convert here, game over.

Zone read was the play call. Mayfield faked it to Perine, and Perine was supposed to go out of the play. Instead, he decided to pick up the defender off the edge, nail the block that allowed Mayfield to dive his way into the end zone.

“I pulled the ball, and he came back and cut the guy when he wasn’t even supposed to,” Mayfield said. “That’s just football IQ. And that’s something you need in a program. Obviously he’s very talented, but if he doesn’t have any IQ, what’s there to do with it? When he can do stuff like that in a clutch situation on fourth down, it helps everybody out.”

That was the play everybody is going to remember, but Perine’s two-yard touchdown catch earlier in the fourth quarter was pivotal as well.

Facing a third-and-goal, OU was sure it had the perfect play call to fake it to Perine and then find him open for the touchdown. Except the Vols covered it well, at least initially.

So Mayfield extended the play, rolling out toward the sideline before throwing a dart to Perine, who caught it behind defenders.

“He’s a great teammate and a great leader,” Mayfield said. “It goes unnoticed to a lot of people, but inside the program, we notice the little things.”

It’s a pretty safe bet Perine is already out of the Heisman race. That’s fine because he said he never paid attention to that hype anyway.

He has the respect of his coaches. He has the respect of his teammates. And instead of becoming a disruption to the offense, he remains the glue holding it together.

“I can’t say enough about what that says about him as a person, as a player,” Darlington said. “I’ve always respected him and been amazed by his humility. I think that’s just gone to another level these first two games.”

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