They stood together in the rain, a decimated team on a dreary Saturday, watching the celebration here at Gaylord Family-Memorial Stadium after Oklahoma beat Kansas 44-7.
Two fireworks exploded. Smoke filled the air above one end zone.
The Sooners fans that remained — dressed in ponchos and drenched from four quarters of rain — stood on their feet and chanted one name: “Perine, Perine.”
Oklahoma freshman running back Samaje Perine had just barreled and weaved 42 yards on his 34th carry of the day. It was still early in the fourth quarter, and Perine now had 427 rushing yards, the most in NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision history. As Perine, a true freshman, reveled in the moment, the record-breaking number flashed on the scoreboard. The Kansas defense stood and watched.
“It hurt because no one wants to be that team,” Kansas defensive back Fish Smithson said later.
Just one week earlier, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon had eviscerated Nebraska for 408 yards in 25 carries, surpassing LaDanian Tomlinson’s NCAA FBS record for single-game rushing yards. On Saturday afternoon, on a rain-soaked day in Norman, the record was passed to Perine.
As the rain continued to fall, Kansas suffered through the final quarter of a drubbing at the hands of No. 23 Oklahoma, the first genuine moment of humiliation since interim head coach Clint Bowen replaced Charlie Weis on Sept. 28. The Sooners rushed 55 times for 510 yards, repeatedly gashing a KU defense that had stood up to No. 5 TCU just a week before.
For more than three hours on Saturday, the Jayhawks were that team.
“They dominated the game,” Bowen said. “The dominated on both lines of scrimmage.”
Perine, a native of Pflugerville, Texas, wasn’t even Oklahoma’s starting running back on Saturday. That was Keith Ford. His previous career high was 242 yards. But then came the onslaught, five rushing touchdowns, all on dashes of at least 27 yards.
“It’s unreal,” Perine said.
The longest was a 66-yard touchdown on his first carry of the second half. The domination was everywhere. But mostly, it was on a simple cut-back run to the left side. The lead blocker would slam into the right side of the line. The KU defense would shade that way. And Perine would blast through a canyon on the left side.
“It was the same play,” Bowen would say, explaining the breakdowns.
He continued: “We made a calamity of errors in our run-fits. They’re running four or five different plays, and we think we get a play fixed, and one other guy gets knocked out of his gap or knocked off the line of scrimmage. It just kept hitting in different places.”
For Bowen, the disastrous day came at an inopportune time. The Jayhawks, 3-8, will finish their season next week at Kansas State, and Bowen is still trying to prove to KU’s power-brokers that he is the right man to be Kansas’ head coach.
“Obviously, it’s a step backward,” Bowen said.
On a miserable morning in Oklahoma, the start of Saturday’s game was delayed 90 minutes after thunderstorms pummeled the area during the early-morning hours. By 11 a.m., the original start time, the thunder and lightning had left the area. But the rains persisted for most of the afternoon, turning the playing surface into a slow and muddied track. Well, not that slow.
The Jayhawks, who wore all-white jerseys, were soon stained pink by the red paint on the Oklahoma grass field. And the Jayhawks’ offense was just as sloppy. KU managed just seven first downs and 103 total yards. One week after junior quarterback Michael Cummings threw for 332 yards in an encouraging 34-30 loss to No. 5 TCU, the passing game was handcuffed by the wet conditions. Cummings completed just eight of 22 passes for 84 yards.
“It was definitely frustrating,” Cummings said. “It shifted our mentality as an offense.”
Oklahoma, which was playing without starting quarterback Trevor Knight, was no better in the passing game. Backup quarterback Cody Thomas was just three of 13 for 39 yards. But that didn’t even really matter. For one day, Perine was a one-man offense, a certifiable machine, averaging 12.6 yards per carry and crushing the momentum KU has built up under Bowen.
On Perine’s final touchdown, KU defensive back Dexter McDonald could only flail an arm at Perine’s back, almost like he was patting him on the back as he cruised into the end zone.
“They were just gashing up, man,” KU defensive lineman Keon Stowers said. “They had our number in the run game.”
Once upon a time, the NCAA single-game rushing mark resided in Lawrence. On Nov. 23, 1991, Kansas star Tony Sands torched rival Missouri for a then record 396 yards in 58 carries. That record would eventually be broken by Tomlinson in 1999, then bequeathed to Gordon last week.
Now it belongs to Perine. Kansas was the other team.
“I don’t want any part of (the record),” Bowen said.
“It still hasn’t hit me yet,” Perine added. “It was just a great day.”