If you need a storyline for the Tennessee-Oklahoma game Saturday, stand in line and take your pick. Two ranked and historically storied programs vying for national dominance on the big stage once more. The resurrection of Neyland Stadium as one of the most hostile places in the country to play. Butch Jones vying for a signature career win to hoist his team into prominence.
The dynamics are there. But when foot meets leather Saturday, one of the most intriguing aspects of Saturday’s game is the backfield. Four potential NFL running backs will take to Shields-Watkins Field Saturday in a game that promises as many rushing fireworks as it does explosive plays in the air.
Oklahoma’s starter, Samaje Perine, was named Scout’s Freshman Offensive Player of the Year in 2014 after rushing for 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns. Perine also set the FBS record for most rushing yards in a game with 427 against Kansas, breaking the record of 408 yards set one week earlier by Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon.
The Sooners also boast the services of redshirt freshman Joe Mixon, a Scout five-star running back who was suspended the entire 2014 season after an alleged incident in the summer where he was accused of punching a woman in the face and charged with a misdemeanor. Mixon entered a plea and was given 100 hours of community service and agreed to undergo counseling. The redshirt freshman made his Oklahoma debut Saturday against Akron, notching five rushes for 27 yards and three catches for 115 yards and a touchdown — including a 76-yard touchdown catch that serves as the longest by a freshman running back in Oklahoma history.
Perine’s Tennessee counterpart and feature back, Jalen Hurd, scampered for 899 yards and five touchdowns as a true freshman. The Hendersonville native began 2015 with a 123 yard, three touchdown game against Bowling Green and is complemented by former Scout five-star Alvin Kamara, who himself rushed for 144 yards and two touchdowns and has become an invaluable asset to the Vols’ rushing attack.
All four running backs could end up playing in the NFL on Sundays, and their presence makes this marquee matchup that much more intriguing as we count down the days until kickoff.