- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 10, 2004

DALLAS — Add a new name to your Heisman Trophy ballot.

Oklahoma freshman sensation Adrian Peterson authored an unforgettable homecoming at the Cotton Bowl yesterday, rushing for 225 yards against the school he spurned and lifting the second-ranked Sooners (5-0, 2-0 Big 12) to a 12-0 victory over Texas.

“I was really looking forward to this game and coming back to Texas, a team I grew up liking my whole life,” said Peterson, a Palestine, Texas, native who signed with the Sooners over his home-state team as the nation’s top prep prospect last season. “I was a diehard Texas fan. I still have a poster of Ricky Williams on the wall in my dorm room. But I had to make the decision that was best for me, and that meant going to OU.”

If Peterson miffed a lot of Longhorns when he headed north to Norman, his return yesterday left them in awe. The 6-foot-2, 212-pound tailback entered the game on Oklahoma’s second series (after deferring the start to Kejuan Jones) and romped 44 yards on a counter sweep on his first carry to set the tone for a dominating game.

“We had run a straight toss sweep in our first four games, and today we wanted to use the speed of the Texas defense against them. So we faked the toss one way and went out the back door on the counter,” said Oklahoma offensive coordinator Chuck Long of the play that bedeviled the Longhorns (4-1, 1-1) all day. “Adrian did some serious damage on that play all afternoon because all it takes is an instant’s hesitation by the linebackers and he’s got the corner.”

Though the Longhorns couldn’t stop Peterson, they did have a nice package in place to thwart defending Heisman winner Jason White who completed just 14 of 26 passes for 113 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.

Thanks to those interceptions and some excellent red-zone defensive work from Texas, the Sooners led just 3-0 at halftime. But the second half belonged to Peterson and the Oklahoma defense.

On the only two scoring drives after intermission, Oklahoma fed Peterson the ball, and the formidable frosh flashed through the Texas line and punished the Longhorns’ secondary on every stop. On the first of those two drives, which resulted in a 26-yard field goal by Trey DiCarlo, Peterson carried six times for 30 yards. On the second scoring drive, which Jones consummated with a 6-yard touchdown run to give the Sooners a 12-point cushion with 8:01 remaining, Peterson carried six times for 42 yards.

All told, Peterson toted the ball 32 times for a 7.0-yard average. He dwarfed the exploits of Texas back Cedric Benson (23 carries, 92 yards), who came into the game with bronze boy hopes of his own and left it as the No.2 back in the Big 12.

“I don’t make the votes,” said Benson, whose Texas team was shut out for the first time in 181 games and lost the Red River Rivalry for the fifth straight year. “I know a lot of people said this was make or break for the Heisman or what not. But I don’t know.”

Peterson now has to be considered the Big 12’s best Heisman bet, joining Purdue’s Kyle Orton and USC’s combo of Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush on the current short list of contenders.

Peterson, who dazzled with both speed and power through the hole, has 771 yards on 119 carries this season (a 6.48 average). And it speaks volumes about his talent that he’s the first back in the Sooners’ storied history to begin his career with five consecutive 100-yard games. This is the school that produced Heisman-winning runners Billy Vessels (1952), Steve Owens (1969) and Billy Sims (1978).

“Adrian’s a very special player,” said Long, the former Iowa quarterback who has seen his share of shooting stars. “He’s as talented a kid as I’ve seen on any team in my 10 years as a coach. He’s got it all.”

And yesterday he showed it to Heisman voters and a record crowd of 79,587 at the Cotton Bowl with a piston-legged straight-up style reminiscent of Eric Dickerson’s.

“People say I run a little like him, but I guess what I’d say most about my style is I run flat-out hard,” said Peterson, who sent half of Texas’ secondary to the sideline with the savage way he finished runs. “If you can run out of bounds and not get hit or get an extra yard by running over a guy, I’m taking the second option every time.”

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Peterson — even more impressive than his speed, astounding physique or pain-inflicting style — is his off-field demeanor. Peterson answered questions with “yes, sirs” and “no, sirs,” dismissed his stunning performance as a natural byproduct of his superb offensive line and laughed out loud when asked if he considered himself a Heisman candidate.

“No way I’d say that,” said Peterson, who chose Oklahoma over Texas because he said he felt the Sooners had a better shot of winning a national title. “I’ve gotten where I am because I’ve stayed humble. My teammates know that I’m not going to let things, good or bad, change me. That’s how you earn respect.”

Peterson certainly earned that yesterday and though it may be a stretch to cast him as a Heisman candidate — no freshman has won the award though Michael Vick (1999) and Maurice Clarett (2002) were serious factors recently — he certainly has to be considered because he is the best player on the best team.

“Why not?” Long said. “I can promise you he’ll only do better with voters once they get to know him because nobody on this team works harder. Here’s a guy who came in as the best high school player in the nation and hasn’t once acted like a prima donna. He’s the proverbial coach’s dream — the genuine article. And he’s got the whole world in front of him.”

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