NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma running back Rodney Anderson’s rise from two season-ending injuries to become one of the nation’s most productive backs has surprised even those closest to him.
The redshirt sophomore suffered a knee injury early in the 2015 season and a neck injury in fall camp in 2016, and he didn’t even start the first half of this season. Since Oct. 21 against Kansas State, his first game in a featured role, he leads Power Five players and is second nationally with 1,041 yards from scrimmage.
Oklahoma left tackle Orlando Brown knew Anderson was talented but he didn’t foresee this explosion.
“Straight up. I didn’t expect it,” Brown, an Outland Trophy finalist, said. “I told him, ‘Man, I didn’t think you were completely capable of this.’ Obviously, he was able to get over his injury, and he’s came a long way and he’s only going to get better. Have a ton of respect for him. I was wrong.”
In the game that pushed him into the spotlight, Anderson gained 290 yards from scrimmage and scored four touchdowns during a 38-20 win over TCU. He will be a priority for TCU’s defense in the rematch when his second-ranked Sooners (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) face the 10th-ranked Horned Frogs (10-2, 7-2) in the Big 12 Championship game Saturday at AT&T Stadium.
“We’ve got to tackle the running backs,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “We did a poor job (the first time), and one of the reasons is a good player, is Rodney Anderson. You don’t tackle very well, then you’re going to have a hard time playing good defense. So you defend that, you defend the deep ball, you’ve got a chance.”
The 6-foot-2, 218-pound Anderson has kept it going since the TCU game. He gained 116 yards from scrimmage and caught a touchdown pass in limited action against Kansas, and then ran for 118 yards and four touchdowns in a 59-31 win over West Virginia.
As electric as his game is, Anderson shies away from attention. He doesn’t have a Twitter account and rides a skateboard to class. He lives with offensive linemen Dru Samia and Bobby Evans and feels most at home with the big fellas up front.
“The offensive line — they’re my favorite people, to be honest with you,” Anderson said. “I hang out with them. We go eat sometimes. I’m always with the offensive line. They’re amazing. It’s always good when they block for me.”
The linemen claim Anderson as one of their own, though Brown joked that unlike them, everything Anderson eats “turns into muscle.”
“Rodney’s a funny guy, man,” Brown said. “I don’t really know how to describe it, but he’s a big guy. He fits in right with us. Whether that just be his swag, the way he carries himself, he fits right in with us. He likes to play games, likes to eat.”
He’s different than the average running back on the field, too. The past six games, he has 785 yards and nine touchdowns rushing and 256 yards and five touchdowns receiving. He had 151 yards rushing and 139 yards receiving against TCU in the regular-season showdown.
“His versatility has been impressive,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. “How well he’s caught the ball, he’s passed protected well, he’s ran physical. He’s popped some long plays running. Him being able to do all that and then having the other guys right there with him that have been very productive as well have really helped us.”
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AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins contributed to this report.