Trey Sermon was once a regular at BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse. Multiple times per week he’d scarf their Pizookie’s, personal-dish cookie pizzas below a stack of vanilla ice cream.
“Now I’m down to one a week,” the Oklahoma sophomore running back said.
Last offseason, OU’s coaching staff wanted Sermon to increase his speed and mobility. That meant trimming down and repeating high-intensity drills that promote faster acceleration.
“It’s been very useful,” Sermon said. “My main focus was to get leaner, work on my quickness and my acceleration in and out of my cuts. I felt like I’ve done a good job of it.”
After recording career highs in carries (26), yards (206) and touchdowns (3) in OU’s 51-46 win at Texas Tech last week, Sermon was Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded running back in the Big 12 for week 10, earning an 80.0 grade.
He’s showing no signs of wearing down ahead of Saturday’s game against Oklahoma State (2:30 p.m., ABC).
“He carried us,” OU quarterback Kyler Murray said. “I mean, I ran for 100 [yards], but, behind our O-line, I think he ran the best he has all season. I don’t want to say he’s been down, but he hasn’t really got loose like he’s wanted to get loose and I think he did that Saturday. It was good to see that.”
Sermon’s trademark physicality was evident, including several violent stiff-arms. In the second quarter he bowled over Tech defensive back Douglas Coleman for a 3-yard score out of the wildcat formation.
But on two other touchdown runs, he displayed the kind of quickness and change of direction that he’d focused on over the summer.
In the fourth quarter, he slipped through a hole and accelerated by a defender for a 20-yard score.
With under four minutes remaining in the game, he carried the ball on six of seven offensive plays during OU’s final scoring drive, finishing with a 30-yard TD run. Offensive linemen Ben Powers and Bobby Evans pulled from the left side and administered two big blocks, but Sermon’s agility allowed him to escape traffic and pull away into secondary.
Those plays may not have come so easily to him a year ago.
“He’s definitely moving better, no question about it. His body’s better. He’s in better shape,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said. “Quickness, speed has absolutely improved and will continue to improve, too. But the great thing is he’s been able to get better at that without sacrificing the physicality, and that’s kind of what separated him in the beginning. We’re starting to see what he can do with both right now.”
Sermon’s continued emergence is even more vital considering injuries dealt to OU running backs. The Sooners’ preseason expectations were built on Rodney Anderson’s role in the offense after the redshirt junior exploded down the stretch last year; but his season-ending knee injury in Week 2 left the primary running back spot vacant.
The misfortune continued last week when senior running back Marcelias Sutton broke his leg in practice, something Riley deemed a freak injury.
OU’s run game hasn’t taken a step back, ranking 12th nationally in yardage to maintain balance in the offense. According to OU, on just nine occasions have the Sooners have rushed and passed for at least 300 yards in a game — three of those came this year, including two in the last two weeks.
Sermon isn’t solely responsible for that. He and redshirt freshman Kennedy Brooks have absorbed most of the backfield’s carries in Anderson’s absence. Freshman T.J. Pledger remains an available third option.
“T.J. is a great running back,” Sermon said. “He’s quick, he has great patience and I feel like he’s getting a good feel for the game as the season goes on. I feel like he can come in and still play at a high level.”
But it’s Sermon who has the most experience of the group. With increased endurance and a widened skillset, Riley’s confident about him shouldering a big load when OU needs it.
“He’s a confident kid right now,” Riley said. “He’s playing well. He’s playing better than he did last year.”