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In Barry Sanders' presence, running backs buy into new identity

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Richardson and Williams

Dominic Richardson and Tyrese Williams celebrate after a play.

It is hard to change an identity.

For Oklahoma State, currently engaged in a season where defense and rushing are at the forefront compared to the Cowboys traditional pass-heavy offense, a return to the past might have helped expedite the identity change.

On Saturday, the university celebrated former running back Barry Sanders, unveiling a 9-foot-tall bronze statue outside of Boone Pickens Stadium and inducting him as the second member of the Cowboy Ring of Honor.

In OSU’s 63-17 rout of TCU, the Cowboys embraced the rushing attack, compiling 447 rushing yards compared to 235 passing yards. The numbers, slightly askew because of the large lead the Cowboys (9-1 overall, 6-1 Big 12) had constructed (OSU only attempted one pass in the fourth quarter), still trended toward OSU’s new identity.

“I think we just blocked (well),” coach Mike Gundy said. “They were physical, they dropped their pads and ran hard.”

Staying on trend, running back Jaylen Warren once again took carries in the first half, amassing 103 yards and three touchdowns before halftime. He touched the ball thrice more in the second half, gaining 10 yards before leaving the game with an injury.

Gundy said Warren had the breath knocked out of him and will be fine, but with 25-point lead, he opted to rotate depth pieces in.

Running backs Dezmon Jackson and Dominic Richardson split carries in the third, each finding the end zone twice.

Richardson nearly doubled his season yardage total, concluding Saturday’s contest with 134 yards, the second-most in his OSU career behind only a 169-yard game against Baylor this past season.

“Dominic runs hard now,” Gundy said. “If you get in front of him you’re going to get punished. He runs hard and takes pride in it.”

Richardson, initially a TCU commit before being granted full release, displayed his aggressive running style against the Horned Frogs, bowling over TCU linebacker Dee Winters on a 28-yard run.

Jackson, who has missed six games this season with an undisclosed injury, also padded his stats Saturday. He had only accumulated 23 yards this season on seven carries, but doubled his carries, and tripled his yards, rushing the ball 16 times for 68 yards, and bursting into the end zone for the first time this year.

“Jackson looked good,” Gundy said. “He has been healthy now for two weeks and practiced hard and ran well tonight.”

Freshman running back Jaden Nixon was able to record his first touchdown as a Cowboy, breaking several tackles on a dizzying 63-yard rush. His three rushes Saturday bring his season total to 14, and rushing yards to 122.

“(Nixon) came in and showed why we recruited him. I’m very encouraged by those guys,” Gundy said.

The rush onslaught was accomplished without two starters on the offensive line. Left guard Josh Sills was replaced by Tyrese Williams, and center Danny Godlevske by Joe Michalski.

Gundy said neither injury is serious, and he expects Sills to return to practice this week.

“I thought the big kids, obviously they took control of the offensive line, the line of scrimmage, and they did a really good job with whoever was in there at the time,” offensive coordinator Kasey Dunn said.

Two of the three quarterbacks who played recorded positive yardage, with Spencer Sanders adding 53 rushing yards, and Gunnar Gundy recording his first career rushing yard.

The win elevates OSU into a tie for first place in the Big 12 standings, pulling the Cowboys abreast with Oklahoma. With two remaining games on the regular season docket, the historic performance, in front of a historic figure, might be a sign OSU has bought into its new identity.

Running the ball.

“Our guys were fired up and excited to play in front of Barry today,” Dunn said. “We just didn’t want to disappoint.”

sports.ed@ocolly.com