STILLWATER — When Ollie Gordon broke the grasp of a would-be BYU tackler, reversed field, turned the corner and motored toward the end zone, it looked like the best-case scenario would be getting back to the line of scrimmage.
How was he going to get any farther with two defenders awaiting him?
But the Oklahoma State tailback decided to try an unconventional path to cover the final couple of yards to the goal line: air travel.
Gordon launched himself into the air a couple yards from the end zone, and darned if Superman didn’t leap a couple defenders and land across the goal line.
What was he thinking when he decided to take flight?
“My team needs this,” he said simply.
That the Cowboys did. They needed all of Gordon last Saturday in a double-overtime, come-from-behind win against BYU, a performance that may well have sewn up Big 12 offensive player of the year, which will be announced Wednesday, and may well land him the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation’s top running back. This Saturday in the Big 12 Championship Game, they’ll need a superhero performance from Gordon again.
Texas, after all, has the fourth-best rushing defense in all the land.
The Longhorns are allowing only 85.0 rushing yards a game, and their opponents have scored a combined seven rushing touchdowns all season. And often, they stifle the run without packing defenders close to the line of scrimmage. They do it with just their down linemen and linebackers.
“Most people have struggled in a big way blocking their down guys and their backers,” Cowboy coach Mike Gundy said, “so they don’t have to overload the box for the rush.”
Texas allows only 2.9 yards a carry.
Gordon averages 6.5 a carry.
“We have to find ways to block ‘em and balance our offense,” Gundy said. “We would like to not be one dimensional. One dimensional has not been good for our team no matter who we play, much less a team that’s as talented as Texas.”
Seven times this season, the Longhorns have held their opponents under a hundred rushing yards, including allowing Iowa State only 9 rushing yards a couple of weeks ago. But a few teams have had success; Kansas rushed for 124 yards, Wyoming for 155 yards and OU for 201.
(In case you haven’t paid attention, the Sooners’ run game was hit and miss this season.)
Having success running the football against Texas isn’t all on Gordon, of course. The offensive linemen and tight ends blocking at the line of scrimmage and the receivers blocking downfield will have a hand in how the Cowboys run the football. But Gordon has the ability to turn well-blocked plays into touchdowns and not-so-well-blocked ones into positive yards.
His last three touchdowns against BYU were great examples of that.
Late in regulation with OSU trailing by three and the Cowboys facing third-and-1 from the BYU 15, Gordon got the handoff, took a couple steps toward the middle but seeing no running lanes, bounced the run to his left. He beat the linebacker to the edge, then sprinted up the sideline, outrunning a couple of defenders to the end zone.
His next touchdown showed similar vision, but patience was also on display. On second-and-goal from the BYU 3, Gordon again started up the middle, but with his blockers pulling right, he paused a beat, let the blocks work, then cut left. There was no one between him and the end zone.
Then came that leaping touchdown in the second overtime, a testament to Gordon’s athleticism and determination.
“Ollie Gordon’s a heck of a player,” Texas coach Steve Sarkisian told reporters in Austin on Monday, “and they have done a great job offensively of leaning into him.
“He has the hard yards, the tough yards in between the tackles, but yet, he has the big-play, explosive-play ability to create those long runs.”
Sarkisian also credited the Cowboys’ scheme, mentioning Gordon’s runs out of the pistol formation. Sarkisian said OSU deploys a lot of different runs out of that formation but does them out of alignments that largely look the same.
“Your defensive line and your linebackers have to do a great job of fitting those things,” he said. “And then you’ve got to tackle.
“Generally with a guy like him, one guy’s not enough.”
Gordon might be even harder to tackle on Saturday. A product of Euless Trinity High School, he’ll be playing less than 20 minutes from his alma mater.
Gordon will also be getting his first big crack at Texas, a program he says slighted him as a recruit.
“Honestly, I felt disrespected by Texas,” he said, “because they had me, like, sixth on the depth chart behind other people that I knew that wasn’t supposed to be. … They came like a day before signing day. Obviously, they weren’t paying attention to my film before.”
Safe to say, the Horns are aware of Gordon now.
Hard to ignore the nation’s leading rusher.
Even his teammates have to be hyper aware of him. Saturday on that final touchdown, Cowboy receiver Brennan Presley saw Gordon reverse field and head straight towards him. Presley started blocking but didn’t want to grab and hold.
“Because the last thing we need is a penalty,” Presley said.
He ended up on the turf.
“I’m on the ground and I see him go over for the touchdown,” Presley said. “I’m like, ‘Got the job done a little bit, I guess.’”
Gordon saw Presley at work. In fact, Presley was a big consideration for Gordon when he decided to take flight.
“I saw BP slide over and get the block, and I would have ran through it but I didn’t want to step on BP,” Gordon said after the game. “So I just went over BP, so I didn’t land on him or nothing. We need BP next week. We don’t need no fingers stepped on, no hands, no legs, nothing stepped on.”
Then again, Superman knows with great power comes great responsibility.