This year for the Sooners, it's been all about the ground show from newcomer Damien Williams. The JUCO-turned-Division I running back has amassed 341 yards and five touchdowns on 44 carries, especially taking the bulk of the carries in last weekend's 41-20 OU victory over Texas Tech when he got his most touches of the season, 20 plays called his way, including 14 on the ground. He's put together a pair of 100-yard rushing performances. Former walk-on sensation running back Dominique Whaley has produced some as well coming off his broken ankle, though not to the capacity he did last year. Whaley has accumulated 190 yards and a touchdown on 32 rushes, losing his starting spot to Williams in the process. Third option Brennan Clay has managed a couple of touchdowns and 105 yards on 17 carries thus far.
The Longhorns figured to be finding their way at linebacker this season with a talented but inexperienced group after losing multi-year starters Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho. Even more stress was put on that group when the lone returning starter, Jordan Hicks, suffered a groin injury against Ole Miss. Whether it's the whole reason for the defensive struggles or not is unclear. But Texas allowed 21 points in the second half to the Rebels, then 36 points to Oklahoma State and 48 to West Virginia with Hicks out. It doesn't look great for a Hicks return on Saturday. Texas isn't without athletes at the position, and Steve Edmond is one of the Big 12's most imposing men in the middle. At 6-foot-3 and (probably) more that 260 pounds (he's listed at 255), Edmond runs like most 235-pound middle linebackers. The emergence of Kendall Thompson last week helps in that he's versatile and athletic, and more assignment-sound than some of his contemporaries. Demarco Cobbs came to Texas as a running back, spent time at safety and now is one of the faster linebackers in the country. Those will probably be the main three, though true freshman Dalton Santos could see some reps with Oklahoma's increased tempo. The Longhorns are certainly getting better here, but they still have a tendency to get out-of-position at times and can get out-gapped. This is the biggest defensive weak spot.
The health of Hicks is key here. How his groin holds up and if he plays may determine the advantage here between the backs and backers. As a veteran he should shore up the Longhorn run support, which has frankly been awful the last couple of weeks. Though, certainly there's been problems with more than the linebackers in getting gashed by Oklahoma State and Texas, they've surrendered 467 combined rushing yards the last two times out. Williams and co. for the Sooners have the ability to exploit that perceived weakness again unless Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz can get the right guys in the right spots to fill their gaps. For the time being and considering past performances, the edge has to go to Oklahoma.
The Sooners have discovered a great weapon in Williams, who can stress a defense by running the ball or by making plays in the passing game. Whaley is another solid option, and despite his underuse, Trey Millard is one of the best overall players on the Oklahoma squad, a versatile fullback who can do a lot of different things. With the Texas linebackers still finding their way, this one is a Sooner advantage.
DALLAS — Sooners Illustrated's Joey Helmer and Longhorn Digest's Kevin Flaherty team up to analyze this position battle and the rest of them in the Red River Rivalry this weekend.
RRS Breakdown: OU RBs vs. UT LBs
Sooners Illustrated's Joey Helmer and Longhorn Digest's Kevin Flaherty talk this position battle