By John Shinn
Tribune News Service
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Athletic tape completely covered Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine's left foot Friday. Aside from that, the freshman showed no ill effects from the ankle sprain he suffered late in the third quarter of Oklahoma's Bedlam loss to end the regular season.
"Samaje has looked good. He's back to normal. He's running strong. Doesn't have a limp," OU coach Bob Stoops said following the practice. "He's looked really good."
A couple aspects of the Sooners' meeting with No. 18 Clemson Monday in the Russell Athletic bowl are: Can Perine continue his incredible late-season run? And, can they enhance what he's brought to the offense with an improved passing game?
OU quarterback Trevor Knight doesn't see why that wouldn't be the case.
"I think it'll be huge. I don't think it's any different than the rest of the season that Samaje had," he said. "You look back at the games like West Virginia where he was a huge playmaker for us. He adds another dimension and he's definitely beneficial to our offense."
Perine's been more than helpful this season. What the freshman has done -- rush for 1,579 yard and 21 of OU's 61 overall touchdowns -- has made him an offensive cornerstone Monday and in the future.
If you don't think that's the case, the Tigers will tell you.
"A downhill running back, a hard-nosed running back. You've really got to double-tackle him. It's hard to arm-tackle him," Clemson All-American defensive end Vic Beasley said Friday. "He's a great back."
But this game will be differ from Perine's last three.
Knight is back at quarterback after missing the previous three games with a neck injury. The Sooners threw the ball just 50 times in those three games with redshirt freshman Cody Thomas at quarterback.
Also, OU is expected to have wide receiver Sterling Shepard at his healthiest since suffering a groin injury in the beginning of November.
The Sooners are going to try to run the ball against Clemson. But they believe they won't be one-dimensional out of necessity.
"I would hope so," Shepard said when asked if his health alters the Sooners' offense. "I consider myself one of the playmakers out there. I want to make plays. I would think it'll look a little different."
This game could very well show what OU's offense will look like next season. With a healthy Perine and a healthy Shepard, the potential is there to pound the ball and then throw it over the top.
It's the offense the Sooners have spent two seasons trying to create. Ever since the loss to Texas A&M in the 2013 Cotton Bowl, they've wanted to create an offense that could beat teams up as well as run away from them.
Perine is the ideal running back for that kind of team. He's a bruiser who pounds on a defense and wears them down late.
But even he doesn't want to carry the ball 35 times out of necessity.
"Hitting those guys on the perimeter because we know they are probably going to load the box. That's what has happening all year," he said. "We just have to see what they do and work off of that. We have to get the running game going and do the best that we can to get it going and hit the guys on the perimeter."
If Knight can deliver balls to open receivers; if Shepard is back to his explosive self; if Perine continues to punish defenses, the Sooners will look a lot more like the team the Sooners thought they'd be this season.
The chance is there to demonstrate that against a highly respected defense Monday.
It's too late for OU to demonstrate what it could have been this season. It has a chance to show what it can be.