Sutton steps up in Anderson's absence

Oklahoma’s Rodney Anderson carries the ball against UCLA Saturday at Owen Field in Norman. (Billy Hefton / Enid News & Eagle)

NORMAN, Okla. — Almost more than anyone else, Marcelias Sutton could understand what Oklahoma teammate Rodney Anderson was going through when the latter went down with a knee injury in the first quarter of the Sooners’ 49-21 victory over UCLA Saturday.

OU coach Lincoln Riley announced Sunday Anderson was out for the season.

Sutton broke a bone in his foot in the off-season and was out for 31/2 months. He returned the week before the spring game, only to break the foot again and spent another three months on the chelf before returning for the start of fall practice.

“I felt like I got hit by lightning twice,’’ Sutton said on Saturday after the game. “I’m ready to go now.’’

Sutton was ready when called upon Saturday as he rushed for 33 yards on five carries and scored on a hard-nosed 11-yard run to give the Sooners a 28-7 lead with 4:34 to go in the third quarter.

“It’s the next man up,’’ Sutton said. “We feel that all through the running backs room. We all feed each other. We’re a unit and we’re strong together.’’

OU replaced Anderson with a running back by committee. T.J. Pledger had 45 yards on seven carries while Trey Sermon had 13 yards on seven tries.

OU coach Lincoln Riley said the running back depth is good enough that the Sooners didn’t change anything play calling wise after Anderson’s injury.

“Rodney is a great player and we’re certainly hoping for the best, but we got other good players there,’’ Riley said. “We’re not going to change a lot. We have confidence in the guys that we have. They all have dynamic skills. They all can run. They all can catch. They all do a good job pass protecting. It’s a physical position. Depth is part of the game. You work hard to develop depth and we showed that today.’’

“You got to keep it rolling,’’ Sutton said. “You dwell on it after the fact. You do what you have to do and go forward with it. Rodney is the heart and soul of the team. It’s especially hard to see him go down ... when he went down, it was tough.’’

Anderson had been upbeat at halftime, offering encouragement to Sutton and the other backs.

“He said to keep it going,’’ Sutton said. “He’s down right now, but he’ll be back up. He’s good.’’

Sutton — from his own experiences — says it “makes you sick when you see a teammate go down anytime.’’

“Coming back from an injury is hard,’’ he said. “It takes a lot of effort to get back on the field. It’s hard. It takes someone with a strong mind to overcome. It’s a long, lonely grind. It takes a long time to get your body back to a certain point.’’

Sutton felt like he was able to come back with the support of coaches and his family. He admitted “when you fall off physically, you fall off mentally. It took awhile for me to get my head together.

“You just have to stay strong mentally,’’ he said. “That’s how it I was raised.’’

Sutton has been patient while waiting for his chance. He worked with running backs coach Jay Boulware on his blocking in the offseason.

“I’m seeing blitzes better,’’ he said. “A lot of it is knowing what to do on every play. I feel like I have come around as both as a person and a football player. My blocking has been better, but my biggest improvement has been reading my keys on the field as far as running and blocking.’’

The game is beginning to slow down for him after transferring in from Lackawanna (N.C.) College last season.

“It felt it was a little fast at the beginning today, but it started to slow down for me,’’ he said. “I was able to get a feel for the game.’’

Anderson has twice been sidelined by season-ending injuries. He came back from those last season to rush for 1,163 yards and 13 touchdowns and be mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Sutton, before knowing the extent of the injuries, said Anderson would come back strong.

“He’s a strong individual and definitely a big leader on our team my best wishes are for him,’’ Sutton said.

Sutton was the Sooners’ third running back a year ago behind Anderson and Sermon, running for 130 yards on 22 carries for a 5.9 average. Sutton has scored touchdowns in both of OU’s games this season.

“I do feel more mature in some of the things that I’m doing,’’ Sutton said. “I’m seeing my reads quicker than I was last year, especially after the injury. I feel better about the season.’’

Sutton ran especially hard inside, gaining some tough first touchdowns as well as his touchdown.

“It felt good,’’ he said about his score. “I didn’t think I got in at first, but I got my hands through.’’

Sutton said he couldn’t fully judge his play until he saw the films.

“It’s too early to tell,’’ he said.

With or without Anderson, OU will open the Big 12 season at Iowa State this Saturday.

Both Sutton and Riley both said last year’s upset loss to ISU won’t serve as additional motivation.

Campbell is a sports writer for the Enid News & Eagle.