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OU football: Sooners' rushing attack saves best performance for last

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Rhamondre Stevenson pic

Sooner running back Rhamondre Stevenson finds daylight during Oklahoma’s 55-20 Cotton Bowl victory over Florida Wednesday night at AT&T Stadium. (Kyle Phillips / CNHI)

ARLINGTON, Texas — The first Florida defender met Rhamondre Stevenson behind the line of scrimmage but was too late to seriously have a chance to bring the 6-foot, 250-pound running back to the ground.

The next Gator caught a piece of Stevenson’s jersey before falling to the AT&T Stadium floor.

Three more Florida players were within reach of the Oklahoma senior, who was momentarily off balance after the Gators’ second missed tackle near their 13-yard line. But Stevenson, similar to what he and the rest of OU’s runners did all night, escaped and sprinted toward the goal line with one more player to beat.

Stevenson won the race and blew a kiss to the crowd as he came out of the end zone for his first and only touchdown of Wednesday’s Cotton Bowl Classic.

It might have been hard to believe it was his only score following No. 6 OU’s 55-20 victory over No. 7 Florida. Stevenson recorded a season-best 186 rushing yards on 18 carries but was held scoreless until late in the third quarter.

By then, the Sooners were already running the Gators out of Arlington, and OU’s triumph was largely built on its rushing attack, which couldn’t have scripted a better exit to the 2020 season.

“Easily the best game our backs played this year,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “... We ran through tackles. Those were some tackles that at different times this year, we were ending up on the ground. Our guys ran aggressive.”

OU had rushed for more than 200 yards in just three games before Wednesday’s lopsided affair. By Big 12 standards, OU had a middle-of-the-pack rushing offense, ranking fifth in rushing yards per game at 179.7.

OU’s run game seemed to be fading at the close of the season, rushing for just 76 yards against Baylor on Dec. 5 and 120 in the Big 12 championship game against Iowa State two weeks later.

No coincidence, the Sooners’ offensive line played its best game against Florida as well, Riley added.

The collaboration between the units resulted in OU’s offense going off for 435 rushing yards, three touchdowns and 10.9 yards per carry.

OU’s final tally was its most since it went for 510 against Kansas in 2014 — the day Samaje Perine set the NCAA single-game rushing record at 427.

The Sooners’ monster day against the Gators was more of a group effort.

OU, which was missing Stevenson’s primary backup T.J. Pledger to the NCAA transfer portal, turned to true freshman Seth McGowan and redshirt freshman Marcus Major.

Both players hadn’t recorded a carry since OU’s Nov. 7 game against the Jayhawks. Major, who starred at Millwood High School in Oklahoma City before arriving at OU, capitalized on his shot to shine on a national stage, rushing for 110 yards and a touchdown on nine carries.

McGowan, whose role decreased with Stevenson’s return from suspension late in the season, had just one carry, but flipped it into OU’s longest rush of the season, a 73-yard scamper that was just five short of a touchdown.

“I can’t say how proud I am about the way Marcus Major and Seth McGowan stepped up,” Riley said. “Those are two guys that really did a great job.”

OU’s run game had one blemish — Stevenson’s second-quarter fumble that set up a Florida field goal to cut the Sooners’ early 17-point advantage to just a four-point lead.

On the brink of a competitive game breaking out, the Sooners put their foot down, built a 31-13 lead by halftime and never looked back.

“We knew what we had in front of us,” Stevenson said. “We just went out there and executed, just played physical, played hard and came out on top.”

Joe Buettner

405-366-3580

Follow me @JoeBuettner

jbuettner@normantranscript.com

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