OU's Anderson to miss rest of 2018 season

Oklahoma’s Rodney Anderson carries the ball against UCLA Saturday at Owen Field in Norman.

NORMAN — Rodney Anderson walked on his own power but wore a large brace on his right leg after leaving Saturday’s game against UCLA.

He appeared in good spirits on the sideline, but word trickling out from Oklahoma’s camp wasn’t good. And Sunday, bad news was confirmed.

OU’s leading rusher will miss the season with a knee injury.

“We’re heartbroken for him,” OU coach Lincoln Riley stated in a release. “He’s overcome so much in his career, and if anybody can do it again it’s Rodney.

“He’s played a lot of great football and has a lot more ahead of him. He’s just a tremendous person and player and we’ll miss him on the field. But we know he’ll be with us every step of the way as a team captain, and that other players will step up in his place.”

Anderson went down after a 10-yard run on the final play of the first quarter in OU’s 49-21 victory. He didn’t appear to absorb significant contact. No specifics were released about the injury, which is the latest in a string of year-ending setbacks for the redshirt junior from Katy, Texas.

In 2015, a broken leg in Week 2 sidelined him for the season. He sat out all of 2016 after fracturing a vertebra in fall camp.

After emerging in 2017 with 106.2 all-purpose yards per game — despite limited action in September and October — he was expected to have a big 2018 season and help relieve pressure from first-year starting quarterback Kyler Murray. Anderson totaled 100 yards on five carries in the season opener, validating consideration he received as a Doak Walker Award candidate and dark horse for the Heisman Trophy.

Now all eyes turn to OU’s backup running backs, three of whom totaled 91 yards on 19 carries against UCLA.

“We’ve got other good players in there,” Riley said Saturday. “And honestly, play calling-wise, design, all that, it’s not gonna change a whole lot. We’ve got confidence in the guys we have there.”

Marcelias Sutton (five carries) and Trey Sermon (seven carries) essentially split time against UCLA after Anderson exited in the first quarter, but Sermon has had a stronghold on the No. 2 spot since debuting as a freshman last year, rushing for 744 yards and five TDs.

True freshman T.J. Pledger carried seven times for 45 yards with the Sooners (2-0) cruising in the second half against the Bruins. The former four-star prospect was already an unlikely redshirt candidate, Riley said, but will surely play this season in the wake of Sunday’s news.

Redshirt freshman Kennedy Brooks, once considered the third-string back, didn’t receive a touch against UCLA but produced a 41-yard touchdown run against Florida Atlantic.

“They all have dynamic skillsets. They can all run. They can all catch the ball. I’ve got no issue throwing the ball to any of them. They can all pass protect. That’s part of the deal at that position,” Riley said. “It’s a physical position and you have to understand that’s part of the game and we’ve worked hard to build depth and now it got a chance to show today.”

• OU No. 5 in AP poll: Oklahoma moved one spot to No. 5 in the Associated Press poll after its win over UCLA.

The Sooners (2-0) usurped Wisconsin (2-0), which fell to No. 6. The top-four teams remained the same, with Alabama at No. 1 followed by Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State.

Against UCLA, OU gained 485 yards of offense as its first-team defense held the Bruins to just one touchdown. The Sooners’ first two wins have been by a combined 77 points.

Other Big 12 teams in the poll are: No. 14 West Virginia, No. 15 TCU and No. 24 Oklahoma State.

Jeff Cali has been covering sports in the Ada area since the mid-90s. He graduated from Byng High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from East Central University.