NORMAN, Okla. - (KRT) - Regardless of how Oklahoma finishes this season, it will be one of the biggest learning experiences of Adrian Peterson's career.
Peterson has discovered that defensive coordinators are building their entire game plan around stopping him. Running behind a rebuilt offensive line, it's just not as easy as it was last season when Peterson steamrolled his way to 1,925 yards. Still, OU coaches want Peterson to get the ball more.
The quiet kid from Palestine, Texas, is also still coming to grips with the fact that he is a celebrity in Norman. Everything Peterson does is magnified. If he misses classes, for example, everyone is going to know about it.
Peterson's ability to balance celebrity and adversity will help determine whether he is one of the great runners in OU history or simply another Marcus Dupree, a talented player who had one good year and then disappeared.
"The position I'm in, I really don't look at it like I should," Peterson said. "I feel like I'm just like anybody else on the team, just one of the regular guys. Now I realize how the small things can get blown out of proportion."
Coach Bob Stoops raved about Peterson's summer workout habits, saying the player had returned "bigger, stronger, faster." He said Peterson improved his route running and pass-catching.
Stoops estimates that he wants to get Peterson 40 touches (carries and receptions) per game.
If an offense gets 80 plays per game, Stoops figures, OU's best offensive weapon would then get his hands on the football about half of the plays. Last season, Peterson averaged 26.5 touches per game for the 12-1 Sooners.
The Tulsa game is the only one this season in which Peterson got the ball on more than 50 percent of the plays. He carried 32 times for 220 yards and had two catches for 17 yards in a 31-15 win.
In the other two games, both losses, Peterson got the ball less than 40 percent of the time.
TCU put eight players near the line of scrimmage in the season opener. TCU was intent on stopping Peterson and forcing OU to throw. Peterson had 63 yards on 22 carries, OU's quarterbacks struggled, and TCU won, 17-10.
Peterson had 23 carries for 58 yards in a 41-24 loss against UCLA.
"We faced eight-man fronts last year," Stoops said. "You think people just played two-deep (zone coverage) on us last year? I'll show you the tape. We're seeing the same things."
Peterson was so frustrated after the UCLA game, he brushed off reporters and headed straight for the team bus. He also declined to speak with the media the following Monday. The next day, Peterson addressed the perception that he's become frustrated with the play-calling and the offensive line.
"I don't want to say it's frustrating, because a lot of those guys are new and they haven't played together that long," Peterson said. "But I think they're starting to click now. As they get used to working with each other, things will start to open up."
The UCLA game was a frustrating end to a long week. Peterson had unexcused absences in as many as four classes and violated the athletic department's new class attendance policy. He was forced to sit out two practices, and according to the policy, Peterson will be held out of a game if he misses another class.
Peterson's class attendance problems generated headlines nationwide. Peterson's problems, combined with OU's 1-2 record, gave some the impression that Stoops might be losing control of his program.
Such is the scrutiny placed upon the 20-year-old Peterson.
"It's hard," said OU running backs coach Cale Gundy, who was a star quarterback for the Sooners from 1990 to `93. "I can remember when I moved to Alabama after my college career ended and starting coaching down there. I was living on my own with my wife and my child and thought, `You know, this isn't bad.' People don't know who you are, and they don't stare at you.
"There are times you'd like to get away. But (Peterson) surrounds himself with good people. Again, it's just a learning experience for him."
© 2005, The Dallas Morning News.
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