Peterson college football's ultimate weapon

Originally Published: November 3, 2004
By Bruce Feldman | ESPN The Magazine

I admit I thought Reggie Bush was the most devastating player in college football. I thought he was the biggest headache any defensive coordinator could ever have this season, and that he might even win a Heisman sooner in his college career than any other player in football history. He was the ultimate weapon.

But then something changed. I saw Adrian Peterson.

The Oklahoma freshman is the best running back we've seen in a generation. If Heisman voters hold his age against him, they're idiots. Peterson's got Eric Dickerson's glide and burst, only he runs tougher and sheds more tackles. In a word, he's scary. Hands down, he's the most dangerous man in college football. (And yes, hands down even though he's seldom utilized as a receiver and not as a returnman.) Every time Peterson lines up in the backfield, the opposing defense winces. Most of the time they know what's coming: Peterson's going to get the ball, and yet they still can't bottle him up.

Adrian Peterson
Oklahoma RB Adrian Peterson has left defenders in his wake as he's run for 1,272 yards and 8 TDs this year.
"In my 10 years of coaching I've never seen anybody like him," Oklahoma offensive coordinator Chuck Long told reporters recently. "He makes it look easy, but it's not easy."

See what Peterson did to a pretty formidable D in Texas? The Longhorns have given up 915 yards this season -- 690 to their other seven opponents and 225 to young Mr. Peterson. He single-handedly out-gained UT's previous four opponents.

See what he did to Oklahoma State last weekend? Peterson gashed the Cowboys for more yards in the second half than any team has rushed on them in an entire game. "It's tough to believe he's a freshman," said Oklahoma State coach Les Miles.

The guy's already had 34 carries go for at least 10 yards and eight for over 30. Even more impressive is that Peterson's busting runs often come on plays that are only blocked to get three or four yards. Instead, he's slipping tacklers, juking defenders out of their cleats and ripping off 35- and 40-yarders. And ripping out defenders hearts in the process. Teams are well aware that OU loves to run him over their left side and they still can't derail him. By now, we all know that he is eight-for-eight, having topped 100 yards in his first eight games and that he's on pace to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark.

But really, it's not just about the yards with Peterson, it's about his presence. The guy's as inevitable as T-Mobile commercials. It's like Mike Tyson in his heyday, where you watched just waiting for that freak-show moment, that flash of the spectacular that you knew you'd see dozens of times on the highlight shows but you still just had to gulp down every second live waiting in anticipation for it. You watched that OU-Oklahoma State game and you just knew that it was only a matter of time before Peterson detonated.

Now, we have a lot of respect for Ted Miller, who regards Reggie Bush as college football's ultimate weapon. He does great work, but maybe some of the fumes off that putrid U-Dub football team are clouding his judgment here. There is however, a difference between most exciting and most dangerous. Bush, no doubt, is exciting. He can do so much damage just as a decoy as well as a receiver or as a returnman. Devin Hester and young Ted Ginn can also be included in the exciting category.

Peterson, though, operates on a whole different level. In part, it's because of the nature of how he's used. He's going to get his touches, twice as many as Bush per game, which means he stresses the defenses -- and everyone sitting in the stands -- twice as often. In OU's two big games, against Oklahoma State and Texas, Peterson had 66 touches for 475 yards. In the Trojans' two big challenges, against Cal and ASU, Bush got 21 touches. More importantly, in that Cal game, Bush didn't touch the ball at all until midway through the second quarter.

Peterson is just getting revved up. He also seems to be at his best in the big spots.

"He's good at not getting himself in a hurry," K-State coach Bill Snyder said. "A lot of guys have all that speed, and they get out in front of things, get there faster than they should and not let things be created for them, and he's pretty good about that. He doesn't hit holes until they're there. He can still grow, but he's pretty adept at what he does right now."

Pretty adept? Right, and Texas has had a few problems dealing with OU in the last couple of years.

Bruce Feldman is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His first book Cane Mutiny: How the Miami Hurricanes Overturned the Football Establishment is out in bookstores. He can be reached at bruce.feldman@espn3.com.

ALSO SEE