June 15, 2024

The offseason is in full swing as we count down the days until the start of the 2024 season and Oklahoma’s inaugural SEC campaign. With spring practice now behind us, it’s time to take a closer look at each position group for the Sooners and assess their status after the program’s third spring under head coach Brent Venables. The third installment of this 11-part series focuses on the running backs.

Last season, Oklahoma’s run game faced challenges early on, despite entering the year with high expectations. Injuries plagued the unit, leading to a reliance on walk-on Tawee Walker, who stepped up as the team’s most consistent running back during the first half of the season. Walker’s unexpected rise provided stability amidst the chaos, as the team struggled to find its footing.

 

Tawee Walker, Wisconsin, Running Back

The backfield dynamic shifted in the second half of the season when Gavin Sawchuk fully recovered from a preseason hamstring injury and assumed the lead running back role. Sawchuk delivered five consecutive 100-yard rushing games to close out the year, showcasing his talent and ending the season with an impressive average of 6.2 yards per carry. This breakthrough stretch marked a significant turnaround for the former four-star prospect, who had redshirted his first season with the Sooners but hinted at his potential with a standout performance in the 2022 Cheez-It Bowl, where he also achieved a 100-yard game.

Gavin Sawchuk, Oklahoma, Running Back

As Oklahoma prepares for its first season in the SEC, the running back group stands out for its depth. However, the team must settle on a definitive rotation to maximize their offensive potential. The competition and collaboration within this unit will be critical as the Sooners aim to establish a robust and reliable ground game for the 2024 season.

Now, with Sawchuk returning and poised to lead the backfield, there have been notable personnel changes since last season. Departing are Walker, who transferred to Wisconsin, Marcus Major, who transferred to Minnesota, and former four-star recruit Daylan Smothers, who transferred to NC State. However, the backfield isn’t devoid of talent.

Jovantae Barnes, now back to full health, and redshirt freshman Kalib Hicks make their return, providing depth and potential in the running game. Joining them are newcomers Sam Franklin, a transfer from UT-Martin, and Xavier Robinson. This revamped backfield presents a blend of experience, with Barnes and Hicks having familiarity with the program, and fresh talent in Franklin and Robinson. Their collective contributions will be pivotal in shaping Oklahoma’s ground attack for the upcoming season.

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