Late in the first half against Iowa State Saturday, it appeared the Oklahoma Sooners were going to allow a stinging loss to Notre Dame the week before to beat them again. The Sooners were clinging to a 7-6 lead, and had the ball at their own 25-yard line with just over a minute remaining in the half. It appeared the Sooners would be content to just run out the clock.
Then, Brennan Clay stepped out of bounds after a nine-yard gain, stopping the clock and causing OU to reconsider its strategy. Two deep passes later, the Sooners were in the end zone, and went to the locker room up 14-6 with all the momentum on their side.
The Sooners scored on three of their first four second half possessions to turn a nail-biter into a runaway 35-20 victory over the Cyclones. All it took was a simple decision by Clay to stop the clock at the end of the first half.
Clay, who only got the start because Damien Williams was unable to go thanks to an ankle injury suffered last week against Notre Dame, was spectacular, running for 157 yards on 24 carries and an 18-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Clay is a talented back, but has been overshadowed in his career by backs that were simply better.
"I had my opportunity today and I came in and was able to step up," Clay said after the game. "That's what they expect so that's what I had to do."
His freshman season, Clay was behind Demarco Murray, and also dealt with concussion issues that held him out of most of the 2010season. Last season, the emergence of Dominique Whaley kept Clay as the second or third option all season, even when Whaley went down with an ankle injury.
It was never a lack of talent with Clay. The junior from San Diego was a four-star recruit by Rivals and ESPN coming out of high school and a five-star recruit according to Scout.com. However, Clay simply has not been able to crack the top of the depth chart. Until Saturday, that is.
Saturday was officially Clay's fifth start in his career, his first since last season against Missouri, and he made the most of it. His effectiveness running the ball gave quarterback Landry Jones all kinds of opportunities to throw the ball downfield. Jones finished with a season-high 405 yards and four touchdowns for the game, and had nothing but praise for Clay after the game.
"One of those deals where it is next guy up," Jones said. "We leaned on Brennan today and he did an excellent job. Brennan has always been a guy who regardless will work hard."
Head coach Bob Stoops, who has been fairly closed on the reasoning behind the running back rotation this season, also had high praise for Clay.
"He was huge," Stoops said. "Give the line credit and those guys that were in front of him did a really nice job throughout the game. It wasn't always clean, but it isn't going to be because they have good players too. Brennan had a great day."
The Sooners needed a strong performance after the emotionally deflating loss to Notre Dame a week ago. All the ingredients were there for a letdown game as well, but the Sooners responded well and head back to Norman bowl eligible and preparing to face Baylor next week.
It didn't start well, but thanks to Clay's simple, yet heady, nine-yard run near the end of the first half, the OU offense was able to gain momentum, and proceeded to soundly defeat a very game Iowa State team.
It really is all about the little things.