football Edit

Midseason review: Running backs

For the Oklahoma running back group, things have simply not shaken out as expected.

The two players at the top of the depth chart were not projected to be there before the season started. Meanwhile, despite the Sooners' running game being seen as a strength heading into 2023, it has been a source of inconsistency through six weeks.

With the Sooners on bye and half of the season in the books, OUInsider is doing a midseason review of several OU position groups. Here's a look at the stats, data, takeaways and midseason grade for the running backs:


Snap-count data

1. Marcus Major — 178

2. Tawee Walker — 153

3. Jovantae Barnes — 65

4. Gavin Sawchuk — 50

(Note: Snap-count data provided by Pro Football Focus).

Individual stats

1. Tawee Walker: 53 carries, 239 yards (4.5 yards per carry), 4 TDs

2. Marcus Major: 60 carries, 226 yards (3.8 YPC), 1 TD

3. Jovantae Barnes: 28 carries, 122 yards (4.4 YPC), 1 TD

4. Gavin Sawchuk: 18 carries, 45 yards (2.5 YPC), 1 TD

Team stats

Rushing offense: 164.8 yards per game (ranks 55th nationally)

Yards per carry: 4.1 (64th nationally)

Rushing attempts per game: 40.3 (22nd nationally)


— It'd be difficult to find anyone who projected that Tawee Walker would have a role at all, let alone be the most productive running back through six weeks. But there's no other way to slice it — Walker is the Sooners' best backfield option. He leads the running backs in rushing yards, touchdowns, yards per carry and yards after contact per carry (2.87). He has the same number of receiving yards as Marcus Major (66) despite having three fewer receptions, and he has the highest PFF rushing grade (84.6) of anybody on the team. He runs hard, he always falls forward and he's particularly adept at breaking tackles. Despite this, Walker's had four games with eight or fewer carries. For the Sooners' rushing game to be at its best, he needs more touches.

— The momentum for Major to see a... major.... role in the offense picked up during fall camp. However, the results have been mixed. He hasn't been particularly productive or efficient despite seeing the most carries through six weeks. He's had moments — the game-sealing touchdown against SMU was a big one — but Walker has been statistically better than him in almost every category. Major's role can be at least particularly attributed to the lack of success from Barnes and Sawchuk.

— Speaking of that, it's simply been a tough season for Sawchuk. He's barely played and when he has, the results haven't been good. The redshirt freshman hasn't had much room to run, and he lacks the explosiveness he flashed in last season's Cheez-It Bowl. Sawchuk still offers the highest upside and explosiveness of any running back on the team, but he doesn't seem fully healthy from the hamstring injury he suffered in the fall. Either way, Sawchuk likely isn't going to see much of a role moving forward unless he improves.

— Barnes hasn't played an offensive snap in three weeks, which isn't surprising since Brent Venables said he's not fully healthy. Barnes was fine when he played — the 4.4 yards per carry is second behind Walker — but the projected Barnes-Sawchuk one-two punch hasn't come to fruition, even when both played all of the snaps against Tulsa. Maybe the bye week brings much-needed rest for Barnes.

— True freshmen Daylan Smothers (9 carries, 38 yards) and Kalib Hicks (3 carries, 15 yards, 1 TD) saw some snaps early in the non-conference slate and both looked good. There's a lot of reason to be optimistic about their potential in the coming years. But, of course, it's unlikely that either see the field the rest of the season unless it's in garbage time.

— It is again surprising that the Sooners' running game hasn't been a massive strength. Yes, the Sooners had Eric Gray last season, but OU had a top-15 rushing offense in 2022. The numbers are down across the board, including rushing yards per game (219.4 last year to 164.9 this year) and yards per carry (4.9 to 4.1) even though the per-game rushing attempt numbers (44.7 to 40.3) have remained roughly the same. Maybe that's a testament to just how good Gray was last season.