Trojans' defense shuts down Sooner super-frosh Peterson in Orange
Posted: Wednesday January 5, 2005 3:32AM; Updated: Wednesday January 5, 2005 5:12AM
By Stewart Mandel, SI.com
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- On Oklahoma's first play from scrimmage in Tuesday night's Orange Bowl, Adrian Peterson took a handoff from Jason White and ran smack dab into a wall of USC defenders led by linebacker Matt Grootegoed.
It would be a preview of his entire night.
Oklahoma's freshman running back, who came in averaging 153.6 yards per content, found himself held to 82 yards on 25 carries, and those numbers didn't even tell the half of it. The Trojans' defense held the Heisman runner-up completely in check in the first half, holding him to just 36 yards on his first 15 carries. It's no coincidence that USC was able to race to a 38-10 lead during the same span.
A common storyline leading up to Tuesday night's game was the battle of Oklahoma's vaunted offensive line and USC's dominant defensive line. The Trojans won the matchup decisively, particularly inside, with All-America defensive tackles Mike Patterson and Shaun Cody. As a result, Peterson found himself with little room to run, and even when he did hit the hole, there always seemed to be a pack of linebackers or defensive backs waiting to bring him down.
"Cody and Patterson and those guys up front, and [linebackers Matt] Grootegoed and Lofa [Tatupu] and Dallas [Startz] were making the plays that they normally make," said USC coach Pete Carroll. "It was a great test for us, but it wasn't too much for us to handle."
All season long, Peterson made his living by breaking tackles, but there few to be had against the Trojans. Tatupu (12 tackles) and Grootegoed (seven) were particularly keen at wrapping him up after first contact.
"We heard it all week on TV, heard our coaches tell us too -- one guy's not going to bring this guy down, and it's the truth," said linebacker Lofa Tatupu. "There were only a couple times when one guy brought him down."
It was clear from the outset that Oklahoma was intent on getting Peterson the ball as much as possible, handing it to him on five of their first six plays. When he failed to get going, the burden of getting the ball downfield suddenly fell almost entirely on the shoulders of quarterback Jason White, and while he responded well on the first drive, leading the Sooners to a touchdown, he started struggling shortly thereafter. In a scene eerily similar to last year's title game against LSU, White threw an interception into heavy coverage on Oklahoma's third drive, another one on the next series, and in the blink of an eye it was 28-7 USC.
"Their team speed is extremely fast, and they were coached to stop the run, and they did that," said White. "We tried to take advantage of it passing wise, and we did the first drive, but after that we didn't make the plays."
Peterson didn't break his first run of longer than 10 yards until the first play of the second half. It was a symbol of the way things went all night that he ended it by fumbling, thought he did recover.
Quiet enough as he is, Peterson struggled for words following the first disappointment of his young college career. Asked if he was embarrassed, he replied, "What do you think?"
Amidst a mostly nightmare evening, there were two bright spots on which he could hang his head. For one, he broke Ron Dayne's Division I-A record for rushing yards by a freshman, finishing the season with 1,925.
And then there's the fact he has at least two more years of opportunities for redemption.