Trevor Knight said it was like middle school football.
“Samaje right, Samaje left,” Knight said. “You just watch him run down the field, he kept picking up first downs and eventually, a touchdown there. It was fun to watch.”
Such was the scene in Morgantown Saturday night, when true freshman Samaje Perine ran over, around and through the West Virginia defense to the tune of 34 carries, 242 yards and four touchdowns. It was a performance few saw coming—especially this early in his career—including Perine himself.
“I didn't really know what to expect with Keith (Ford) down,” Perine said. “I just wanted to go out there and do my best and help the team in any way I could. It just so happens I got the most carries and I'm thankful for that.”
Even though Perine is built like an ox, Saturday's 34 carries were the most he's had in his short football career. His previous high of 32 came at Pflugerville's Hendrickson High School. Perine had around just around 130 carries in his senior year, a small number compared to the workload he's capable of bearing.
“I spent most of my time blocking,” Perine said. “That was one of my favorite things to do is block. I enjoy running the ball but anytime I have a chance to block for somebody, I'm all over it.
“With the success we had, I wouldn't think about it too much. Going undefeated in the district two years in a row is a great thing and that's a pretty good feat to have.”
The most obvious thing about Perine is his size. At 5-foot-11, 243 pounds, Perine is just a massive human being. His physical features make it seem like he's much older than he really is, but his 19-year-old body is able to handle a physical beating like he took on Saturday.
“He got on the bus and I said, ‘We wore you out today,' and he said, ‘I feel pretty good, Coach,'” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “He was alright. He wasn't coming out there like he needed a cane. He had a big smile on his face and bobbed to the back of the bus like he'd carried it five times. There's a lot to him. He's got great stamina.”
It's rare that running backs have the combination of size and speed Perine has, but Oklahoma is fortunate enough to have three of them in Ford, Perine and Alex Ross. Strong enough to run between the tackles, but fast enough to run away from defenders on the outside, the three backs have combined with a massive offensive line to give the Sooners a dominant rushing attack.
With three stellar backs in the mix—originally four, if you include the suspended Joe Mixon—carries are at a premium. Perine said the opportunity to play right away drew him to Norman.
“During my recruiting process Coach (Cale) Gundy was straightforward with me,” Perine said. “He told me that I would be able to play but I would have to work hard in order to do that. I really liked that and that's one of the main reasons I picked OU.”
But Perine is more than just a big body. His maturity goes far beyond his physique; it extends to his personality and mind as well. Sunday afternoon, Perine showed up in the offensive line's meeting room with three large pizzas, a thank-you for their efforts that led to his sensational performance against WVU.
“For a true freshman to do that, it speaks volume to the type of guy he is,” Knight said. “The way he works, it's always so low-key. He's not a flashy guy and you can see that in the way he runs the ball, the way he celebrates, just flipping the ball to the referee. He's just doing his work. It's fun to play with a guy like that, that's there to make plays to handle it like a business trip.”
Perine's performance against West Virginia means the need to get Keith Ford back quickly for his injury isn't as pressing. But when he does return, carries will be at an even higher premium than before he went out. After all, how can you not give the ball to a guy built like a tank who enjoys the nickname, Optimus Perine?