Door opens for T.J. Pledger
Eight carries, 62 yards – that’s it. That’s the numbers for Oklahoma sophomore running back T.J. Pledger this season.
After missing the first month of the season with an injury, Pledger has played in the last nine games. It’s primarily been special teams, though, because he hasn’t had a carry in the last four games.
That should change Saturday when the fourth-ranked Sooners take on No. 1-ranked LSU in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in Atlanta.
“He's more than capable. He's a great, physical back,” running back Kennedy Brooks said. “Y'all are gonna see on Saturday. He's a hard runner. He does everything well. He's gonna have a game this week. After this game, I think a lot of people are gonna know who he is.”
Running back depth was never supposed to be in question this season for the Sooners. But one-by-one, the numbers have dwindled. True freshman Marcus Major suffered a season-ending injury. Then Trey Sermon tore his ACL in November.
A super group of five went down to three and unexpectedly down to two heading into the showdown with the Tigers.
Rhamondre Stevenson is one of three OU players suspended for the game, to go along with defensive end Ronnie Perkins and wide receiver Trejan Bridges.
Stevenson scored the championship-winning touchdown against Baylor less than three weeks ago, but now? It could be Pledger’s time to shine.
Or, put another way, it needs to be.
No doubt OU is going to be able to rely on Brooks and quarterback Jalen Hurts to shoulder the bulk of the running load. Pledger, though, offers a change of pace that nobody else does on the roster.
A highly touted running back for the 2018 class, ranked No. 70 in the Rivals 100, you could make a strong case he’s about to see the meaningful carries of his OU career.
Pledger said he’s not frustrated about the way his time in Norman has been so far, but his best friend knows he’s ready for the moment.
“He’s been strong. He’s strong,” sophomore defensive back Brendan Radley-Hiles said. “Mentally, you can’t really break a guy that’s unbreakable. He’s been through so much adversity throughout his life.
“When you face adversity like he has, you really just fight through everything. I feel like he’s been a man about every situation he’s been facing. I’m proud of him. As his brother, I wouldn’t ask for anybody else to be my brother.”
After playing spot-duty as a freshman, Pledger appeared to be a guy on his way following the end of spring practice. He sounded different. He looked different.
The injury was a blow, but it allowed Pledger to get his body ready for the eventual Big 12 grind. As big as a chance as he has Saturday, he’s attempting to play it cool.
“Trying to stay focused,” Pledger said. “Treat it like how you treat every other business week because that’s what this is.”
That’s certainly been the consensus among the Sooners for this bowl trip, it’s a business. But if you ask Pledger if he’s ready to show the world what he can do, you start to see the confidence bust out.
“Oh, for sure,” Pledger said. “Definitely. I can’t wait.”