LOS ANGELES ― Everybody on both teams is happy to be here in sunny California for the Rose Bowl. It’s doubtful anyone is quite as thankful as Oklahoma’s Rodney Anderson.
The Sooners’ star running back just two weeks ago stood accused of one of the most heinous crimes. He was very publicly exonerated on the courthouse steps in Norman, Okla., but there’s no way for him to put that genie back in the bottle and just pretend like it never happened.
“I just relied on God throughout this thing with my family,” said Anderson, participating in Oklahoma’s offensive players’ press conference Friday at The L.A. Hotel Downtown. “They helped me stay focused. They just kept telling me I had to rely on my faith and my family and the truth was going to come to light.”
It finally did on Dec. 14. After a thorough investigation by office of the Cleveland County (Okla.) district attorney, the decision was made to not follow up on the accusations of sexual assault made by a young woman. In a nutshell, it was determined that the two adults had consensual sex.
But that didn’t take away the fear and shame that Anderson felt. And though he never left the team or quit practicing with the Sooners, there is no denying that the ordeal was a distraction.
“It came as a surprise to me,” Anderson said of the accusations. “But, you know, I mean, all I can do is pray. And that’s what I did. I prayed for myself, and I prayed for her. I prayed for everybody involved in that situation.”
Now working out and practicing with his team at the StubHub Center every day, Anderson said he is feeling as good as ever about football. And certainly the Sooners are feeling much more confident, knowing they have their primary backfield weapon ready to go.
And make no mistake about it, Anderson is a big part of the Oklahoma offense.
Anderson, a 6-foot-2, 218-pound redshirt sophomore from Katy, Texas, is the Sooners’ leading rusher. He has gained 960 yards and scored 11 touchdowns on the season and has added another 283 yards and 5 scores catching the ball out of the backfield.
Add Trey Sermon, a freshman from Marietta, Ga., who gained 710 yards and 5 TDs on the ground, and you realize that the explosiveness of the Oklahoma offense is not limited to Baker Mayfield’s ability to toss the ball around.
“They’re a spread team that’s committed to running the football,” Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said Friday. “I think that’s what makes them unique.”
The ability to attack defenses both ways is what has allowed the Sooners to average 44.9 points and 583.3 yards per game. They’re first and second in the nation in total offense and scoring, respectively.
Granted, Oklahoma’s primary means of advancing the football is via the forward pass, as its 367 yards a game will attest. But the Sooners are probably underestimated as a physical offense that can run the football.
“The media and other conferences really don’t see the Big 12 as a running-style conference, so it’s kind of overshadowed, in my opinion,” Oklahoma senior center Erick Wrenn said. “I mean, you’ve got guys like Trey and Rodney, even Abdul Adams and Marcelias Sutton, they can all come into the game and that’s really underappreciated. Those are four very good backs that can play anywhere in the country.”
It hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Bulldogs, who know a thing or two about good running backs.
“I think it will be a great challenge for our defense and what not,” said Georgia’s Roquan Smith, the Butkus Award winner at inside linebacker. “We know they have a great offense, but we feel like we have a great defense as well. We know they have a lot of great playmakers all around the field at every skill position and also on the offensive line.”
As for the backs, Anderson is the biggest difference maker. The Sooners always have known that but they’ve had a hard time keeping him on the field.
Anderson missed all of last season after suffering a neck injury in preseason camp. The year before, as a freshman, he sustained a season-ending leg injury in the second game making a tackle on special teams.
It’s only been this season that Oklahoma has been able to see what all the fuss was about when this former 4-star recruit signed with them in 2015. He managed to stay on the field for all 13 games and was honorable mention as the Big 12’s Newcomer of the Year. He also was named to the All-Big 12 second team.
When the news broke in early December that Anderson faced those serious accusations, it was assumed the Sooners had lost Anderson again. But his teammates never left his side, and they’re excited that he’ll be able to contribute in the biggest game of the season.
“Yeah, it’s awesome, man, awesome,” said junior left tackle Orlando Brown, an All-American from Duluth, Ga. “Everyone knows what he’s able to do for us, just the different types of things that he brings to our offense. We’re glad to have him.”
“I mean, we have Rodney’s back no matter what,” Wrenn said. “He’s a very, very good person, a very stand-up guy. We’re behind him 100 percent.”
Anderson felt that and appreciated it. Now he’s ready to pay back his teammates
“I’m just glad to have that behind me and concentrate on football,” he said.