football Edit

Barnes puts himself in the mix

Oklahoma head coach Brent Venables and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby have been consistent in saying the only way they’re going to know who they can trust is to give that experience.

It has only been two games, but it sure feels like freshman running back Jovantae Barnes is passing the test as one of those young guys who is going to be around.

The four-game redshirt rule doesn’t seem like it will have any chance to be applicable to Barnes, who has hit the ground running since arriving at OU in January.

“You saw how explosive he was the moment he touched the ball. It just looked different, probably for everybody,” Venables said. “And as he showed in the spring, he's got great maturity to him. The game isn't too hard for him.

“We know he's got great instincts. He's a big guy. Same thing – plays behind his pads very well. Really, really explosive. And he's got a great, great demeanor about him, too, from a freshman standpoint.

Barnes has 46 yards on 13 carries, which doesn’t sound like a lot. But when you add in that he’s trying to find time among a proven vet like Eric Gray and a resurgent Marcus Major, it does say a lot that Barnes has already been able to crack the rotation.

It’s very easy to link Barnes with running backs coach DeMarco Murray. Same position, same hometown of Las Vegas, but it goes way beyond that.

When OU was dealing with the coaching uncertainty following Lincoln Riley’s departure to USC, Murray was a key figure in keeping things afloat. Not just with the program, but with the recruiting class and guys like Barnes.

“He made it known that he was going to stay right away,” Barnes said. “I talked to him about it and obviously I told him anywhere he was going, I was going. That’s if he went to a different college or if he stayed here. If he stayed here, I’d stay here too.

“He made it known that he was staying here and he wasn’t going anywhere and this was the place he wanted to be. I knew I was coming to OU right away as soon as he said that.”

To go with all the stuff Barnes has learned from Murray on the field, it’s his development off the field as a true freshman that is resonating even more with Barnes.

“It’s been amazing. He’s been an amazing leader, an amazing coach,” Barnes said. “It’s kind of like a big brother. I wouldn’t ask for anyone else. It’s an amazing choice. He’s been teaching me things like how to be a man. It’s not only about football. It was a life choice, not only a football choice. It’s one of the best choices I’ve made in my life.”

Barnes announced at the Under Armour All-America Game, and then a couple of weeks later, he was in Norman for good.

That has proven to be a huge help in getting Barnes comfortable on the field now. He admitted to being on edge in the spring and even feeling the jitters during the spring game and the 75,000 fans in attendance.

It prepared him, though, for that opening carry for him against UTEP, where Barnes gave everybody a little taste of what he brings to the table.

“Like, ‘Ooooh.’ Like when you saw Barnes get that first handoff,” Venables said. “You’re like, ‘Whoa.’ We were all on the sideline, even the players, like, ‘Whoa.’

“I’m gonna use this phrase, not the same guy exactly, different styles, but when Adrian would run by you, it was like, ‘Whoa.’ The earth would shake. You’re like, ‘Son.’”

Again, it’s not a direct comparison to legendary OU running back Adrian Peterson, but it does appear like Barnes hasn’t been overwhelmed by the moment.

The moment, however, will get much bigger this weekend at Nebraska. His first road game, first road game for the 2022 class. If you want to know who is going to stand out the rest of the way, their response in Lincoln will give a great indicator.

His coach, his mentor, has been pleased with Barnes’ response to everything else so far.

“Jovantae has done an unbelievable job. Very proud of him,” said Murray last month. “Big, fast, strong looking kid. He’s doing everything we’ve asked him to do. He handles himself well. He has a chip on his shoulder at all times. Very happy to have him here.”