AMES, Iowa -- Facing third-and-short in the third quarter, the Sooners seemed primed to call for the "Belldozer" power package.
Instead, they called for Brennan Clay.
Clay hammered out a first down, then slithered through Iowa State's defense three plays later for an 18-yard touchdown to put Oklahoma up two scores.
With starting running back Damien Williams ailing, it was Clay who resuscitated the Sooners' ailing ground game in a solid 35-20 bounce-back victory after the disappointing loss to Notre Dame.
"He's an example for our other players," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "When you get your time, what are you going to do with it? Are you sitting around not ready? Or when you have the opportunity, do you take advantage of it?
"He took advantage of it."
On a career-high 24 carries, he dashed for a career-best 157 yards and spearheaded an Oklahoma attack in need of a rushing spark.
"With Damien out, I knew I had to step up," Clay said. "And I was fortunate enough to do something."
The Sooners opened up in Ames the way they finished against Notre Dame, as they moved the ball up and down field on Iowa State early, but continued to shoot blanks.
After intercepting Landry Jones in consecutive series, the Cyclones pulled to within 7-6 on Edwin Arceo's 51-yard field goal. With a minute left before halftime and only one timeout remaining, the Sooners seemed content to run out the clock and head to the locker room.
It was Clay who changed their mind.
After a 5-yard gain up the middle, Clay bounced off the line of scrimmage on his next carry, then scooted right for nine yards before dashing out of bounds.
"I was really supposed to go up the gut again," Clay said. "But we had a few seconds left and I thought, 'Why not get out of bounds and save the clock?' Our offense is pretty potent, maybe we can take some shots downfield."
The Sooners needed just two shots. Justin Brown hauled in a bomb down the sideline for 40 yards. The next play, Jones hooked up with Kenny Stills for a 21-yard touchdown to put the Sooners ahead 14-6 while sapping Iowa State's momentum. Oklahoma scored again on the opening drive of the third quarter and controlled the game the rest of the way.
"We leaned on Brennan today, and he did an excellent job," Jones said. "Really helped us get rolling as an offense."
The Cyclones aren't Notre Dame defensively. But even without star linebacker Jake Knott, they field one of the stouter defenses in the Big 12.
Iowa State took a page out of Notre Dame's playbook and tried to take away the Sooners' deep threats. But with Clay churning out yards, the Cyclones had to adjust. That eventually set up one-on-one opportunities downfield for Brown, Stills and Sterling Shepard that Jones capitalized on.
"It's not easy to double cover those guys," Stoops said, "when we're running the way we did."
Even though Kansas State controls its own destiny, the Sooners continue to hang around in the Big 12 title race. They're also well positioned for a BCS bowl berth. But to stick there, Oklahoma will need to keep running the ball like Clay did Saturday.
The third wheel in the "Cali Trio," Clay has watched Roy Finch and Dominique Whaley and then Williams pass him on the depth chart while fellow Golden Staters Stills and Tony Jefferson have ascended to star status.
Even last week as the third-down back against the Irish, Clay dropped what might have been -- or at least given the Sooners a chance to go for -- a touchdown at the end of the first half.
But with Williams a game or three away from being 100 percent with an ankle injury, Clay will be just as critical to Oklahoma's fate through a tough November homestretch.
"I'm really proud of Brennan," Stills said. "He's been waiting for his time to shine. And today, he did."