NORMAN, Okla. -- The last time Oklahoma didn't have Rodney Anderson installed as its featured running back, its offense cratered during the second half of last year's stunning defeat to Iowa State. Anderson took over as the starter the following week, then proceeded to lead the FBS in yards from scrimmage over the final seven games, as the Sooners cruised into the College Football Playoff.
Last weekend, however, OU's push to make the playoff for a third time in four years took a major hit, as Anderson was lost for the season with a knee injury -- the third season-ending injury of his OU career.
In the ensuing weeks after last year's Iowa State loss, Anderson showed what a difference-maker he could be out of the OU backfield, culminating with his 201-yard rushing effort in the playoff loss against Georgia. And as the Sooners prepare for the revenge game at Iowa State on Saturday (noon ET, ABC), they'll have to retool their high-powered attack without the advantage of handing the ball off to one of the nation's top running backs.
"He's been a great player for us," quarterback Kyler Murray said Monday. "But this is the University of Oklahoma. We have to reload. Next man has to step up. I believe we've got the players to do that. It's obviously tough losing him, but we've got guys that can step up."
Murray isn't wrong.
Beginning with him, the Sooners boast the talent elsewhere to keep the offense humming.
Murray himself already has the look of a Heisman contender in his first season replacing Heisman winner Baker Mayfield. Wideouts Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb have been uncoverable thus far in their second seasons in Norman.
OU also has backs with blue-chip pedigrees, collectively capable of easing the sting of Anderson's injury.
"Certainly when you lose a great player, everybody has to step their game up a little bit, no question," coach Lincoln Riley said. "You're going to have to have different guys step up and make those plays. But I know our guys will. I think our whole offense feels that. We hate it for Rodney, but our expectations aren't any different. ... You put some different guys in there and you go play."
The first guy Riley will turn to will be true sophomore Trey Sermon, who already has delivered in big moments for the Sooners.
In last year's massive victory at Ohio State, Sermon hauled in a 10-yard touchdown reception from Mayfield to give the Sooners control in the fourth quarter. Sermon also ran for a team-high 62 yards against the Buckeyes.
Two weeks later, he poured in 148 rushing yards, all in the fourth quarter, as the Sooners pulled away from Baylor. He wound up leading all Big 12 freshmen in rushing with 744 yards and five touchdowns.
"He's gotten bigger, faster, stronger," Murray said. "With this time him being the guy, I think he'll rise to the occasion, just like Rodney did last year."
Flanking Sermon, former junior-college transfer Marcelias Sutton could see his role increase after previously getting spot duty as the third back. The Sooners also will likely insert true freshman T.J. Pledger, the No. 107 overall recruit in 2018 whom Murray says has "all the tools in the world," into the rotation.
"You can't replace a guy like Rodney, obviously," Murray said. "I don't think anyone in the country has a guy like Rodney. For us to try to replace him is going to be tough. But I don't think we'll have to. We've got a lot of guys in the offensive room that can make plays. We'll see guys step up. Nobody thought Rodney was Rodney until they saw what he did last year."
That doesn't mean any of the Sooners' other backs will become the player Anderson was, this season if ever. After all, OU's rushing output improved by almost 24 yards per game after Anderson became the starter last year.
As a result, more of the onus figures to fall on the shoulders of Murray, who, with Anderson suffering the injury on the final play of the first quarter against UCLA, became the first quarterback in four years to the lead the Sooners in rushing in a game.
Murray said he doesn't anticipate running more than he did Saturday, when he was credited with 10 carries. But without Anderson regularly churning out first downs, he could, at the very least, be forced to make more plays in the passing game.
"I think as the season goes on everybody has to get better," Murray said. "I've got to be better. The line's got to get better. The running backs have got to be better. The receivers have got to be better."
Behind another star quarterback in Murray, armed with a pair of playmaking wideouts and a stable of capable backs, the pieces remain for OU to get back to the playoff.
Still, the Sooners lost one big piece on Saturday. Amplifying the pressure everywhere else.