By CLIFF BRUNT, AP Sports Writer
NORMAN (AP) — Heisman-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield often heaps praise upon running back Rodney Anderson and Oklahoma’s ground game.
Now that Anderson’s legal issues are behind him, the Sooners will be in better position to have the balance Mayfield desires in their national semifinal against Georgia in the Rose Bowl on Monday.
Anderson was accused of sexual assault, but prosecutors decided against filing charges earlier this month . Anderson, one of the nation’s most productive players the second half of the season, said he is thankful to be in the clear.
“It’s been a crazy month, but God’s got me through it all,” said Anderson, who is from Katy, Texas. “My family, my hometown has been great. It just feels amazing to get back out here with my team and starting things. I’m just very blessed to be where I’m at.”
The Sooners would certainly love to have a productive ground game against Georgia’s rugged defense to help Mayfield. Though the Sooners have three other capable backs in Trey Sermon, Abdul Adams and Marcelias Sutton, Anderson is the most versatile and complete weapon in an Oklahoma running game that ranks 27th in the nation with 215.9 yards per game. He’s 6-foot-2 and 218 pounds with breakaway speed, the power to finish runs, shiftiness and good hands.
“His versatility has been impressive,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. “How well he’s caught the ball, he’s pass protected well, he’s ran physical. He’s popped some long plays running. Him being able to do all that and then having the other guys right there with him that have been very productive as well has really helped us.”
Anderson, a redshirt sophomore, didn’t even gain a featured role until the middle of this season. Before the legal troubles, he was one of the feel-good stories of the college football season, bouncing back after suffering a season-ending knee injury two games into the 2015 season and a season-ending neck injury in fall camp in 2016.
In his past seven games, including six starts, Anderson has 1,135 yards and 14 touchdowns from scrimmage. He was rewarded by being named second-team All-Big 12.
“Straight up. I didn’t expect it,” Oklahoma left tackle Orlando Brown said. “I told him, ‘Man, I didn’t think you were completely capable of this.’ Obviously, he was able to get over his injury, and he’s came a long way, and he’s only going to get better.”
Anderson’s incredible run started when he rushed for 147 yards, including the game-winning 22-yard touchdown, in a 42-35 victory over Kansas State . He ran for 181 yards the next week against Texas Tech and had 159 yards from scrimmage against Oklahoma State.
He truly emerged on the national scene with a dominant performance against TCU. He had 117 yards and two touchdowns receiving and 86 yards and two touchdowns rushing before halftime against one of the nation’s best defenses. He finished with 290 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns in the 38-20 victory . Anderson ran for four touchdowns against West Virginia and rushed for 93 yards against TCU in the Big 12 title game.
Sermon was the team’s top rusher through the first half of the season and has 710 yards and five scores. Adams has 550 yards rushing and averages 9.2 yards per carry. Sutton has 130 yards rushing and has been solid as the team’s lead kickoff returner. Adams has four starts this season and Sermon has three — Anderson didn’t even earn the starting nod until the eighth game of the season.
Riley said before the district attorney’s decision that the Sooners would have felt good about their chances with or without Anderson.
“We’ve got three (other) guys that can handle it, that have all had big games against really good competition, done it in big-time venues, big-time atmospheres, know what we’re doing,” Riley said. “Yeah, that’s huge. No matter how you lose a guy you’ve got to have that depth, especially in games like this.”
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