By JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Writer
OU's Adrian Peterson is compiling big chunks of yardage after contact
NORMAN -- It was the fourth quarter of a close game, and Oklahoma State defensive tackle Clay Coe, by all accounts, had just made a good play.
Coe, a 295-pound senior, beat the blocking, penetrated the line of scrimmage and smacked Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson almost two yards deep in the backfield. Coe pumped his arms, excited about his feat, and the crowd went wild.
Yet when Peterson got off the turf at Boone Pickens Stadium, he was two yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
That may seem an innocuous statistic, but it is represents the underlying strength of Peterson's game: yards after contact.
Had Coe been able to stop Peterson's forward momentum, it would have been a two-yard loss. Instead, it was a two-yard gain -- a difference of four yards.
Another illustration of Peterson's ability to shed tacklers was more visible in the second half last Saturday. He took a toss sweep to the left, cut back inside the pursuit and ran through an arm-tackle by 305-pound defensive tackle Xavier Lawson-Kennedy. Lawson-Kennedy was actually falling down and was hardly in a proper tackling
position, but most runners would been stopped at the line of scrimmage. Peterson, however, used the momentum from Lawson-Kennedy to spin out and forward and on his way to an 80-yard touchdown run.
"I just tried to keep moving," Peterson said. "I guess that's just second effort; keep your feet moving."
Maybe so, but Peterson has taken it to another level.
Of his 1,272 yards this season, he has gained 1,177 after contact. That's 92.2 percent, a number that might be extraordinary even for immortals like Jim Brown or Earl Campbell, if such statistics were routinely kept.
Sooner head coach Bob Stoops, asked if he's ever seen a back break tackles like Peterson, said, "Not really. No. He has a great way about him of breaking tackles and continuing his runs. He's powerful."
No. 2-ranked OU is 8-0 (5-0 in Big 12 play) largely because of Peterson's ability to wear down defenses. He gets another chance this week when the Sooners visit No. 22 Texas A&M (6-2, 4-1). Peterson's per-game average of 159.0 ranks third nationally, while the Aggies' defense allows just 117.1 rushing yards per game, a respectable national ranking of 31st.
"What he has is strength, he has feet, and he has real speed," said offensive line coach and run game coordinator Kevin Wilson. "He has enough speed if he gets in the open to be a home run hitter. He has enough size that when guys come, he can run through trash."
A video review by the Tulsa World of every one of Peterson's 210 carries revealed what everyone already knows: Peterson is as hard to stop as a truck running downhill. Such reviews can be subjective, so a standard was established: how many yards did Peterson gain after a defensive player laid so much as a hand on him?
The results are startling. He has gained at least 100 yards after contact in every game. He rolled for 225 yards against Texas, 181 of which came after contact. Against OSU -- thanks to slipping tackles at the line of scrimmage twice on long runs in the third quarter -- Peterson gained 223 of his 249 after contact.
But while the long runs pile up the numbers, it's the short runs that define Peterson's unwillingness to go down easy. He strikes opposing tacklers before they hit him, knocking them off balance or driving them backward. That's why only 21 of his carries ended with him not moving forward after initial contact, and most of those were either cutbacks or gang-tackles.
"I just try to make something happen," he said, "and when there's nothing there, I put my foot in the grass and just go forward."
That's all the more amazing because Peterson stands 6-foot-2 and runs upright. His style is often compared to pro football hall of famer Eric Dickerson, who was 6-3, 225 and ran upright. But Dickerson seldom got low.
"Adrian knows when to drop his height and get a low center of gravity. He's just got a good feel when it comes to contact," said OU strength coach Jerry Schmidt. "He just knows how to take on contact and use his strength to his advantage and spin out of stuff and explode through it."
"I think he's a different style of back," said running backs coach Cale Gundy. "He's 216 pounds and he's extremely powerful. Most running backs are somewhere on average in the neighborhood of 190 or 200 pounds. You throw another 20 pounds on a guy, with the speed that he has, you combine those two with the power and leg strength and explosiveness, he's hard to bring down."
"Shoot, it seems like sometimes we miss some blocks and he just makes things happen," said right guard Davin Joseph. "He's just a powerful running back. That's his job, not being taken down on the first hit, making contact and punishing guys and getting taken down by the first guy."
Peterson bench presses 375 pounds, despite a shoulder injury in high school and another last summer. When he first reported to OU, he was clocked at 4.41 seconds in the 40-yard dash. And yet, Peterson's tackle-breaking ability goes beyond measurements.
"It seems like he's so intense when he runs," Joseph said. "They say he runs high or whatever, but I bet you no matter how he runs, you don't want to stand in front of him and let him hit you. His intensity when he runs the ball is what carries him those extra few yards. His hips and his legs are so strong that he can spin up out of tackles if you're trying to arm tackle him, and he just strides on out and runs 80 yards."
Wilson agrees Peterson is a special talent. But he also doesn't want anyone to think Peterson is riding solo.
"He's got the best line going out there," Wilson said. "Adrian's special now, but he's getting a lot of good stuff up there. Tight end's playing better, the fullback's awesome, the line's pretty solid, receivers.
"I mean, he's pretty good. But he's got a lot of stuff with him that makes him good, too. It's the combination of all that that makes us pretty good."