If you’ve ever shaken Adrian Peterson’s hand, you’d remember it. When the 19-year-old freshman walked onto the Oklahoma campus in 2004, he would grab reporters’ hands and practically crush them. With a smile, of course.
Ten years later, Peterson still has a vise grip on the NCAA’s freshman rushing record. He stiff-armed, spun and sprinted his way to 1,925 yards that season, an eye-popping number even to this day.
“Boy, he was something, wasn’t he?” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said last month. “Jeez, that guy! Let me tell you this, if I still had him, he’d be right behind the quarterback.”
Considering how coaches now are using spread offenses to get more playmakers involved, Peterson’s freshman rushing record is a number that may never fall. Tell that number to some Big 12 veterans, and watch their eyes roll back into their heads.
“Yeah, that boy’s a player,” Baylor wide receiver Antwan Goodley said. “He’s a freak athlete, too. I wouldn’t second guess it at all.”
Coaches almost feel compelled to spread the ball around these days. Peterson’s teammates probably understood he should average 26 carries per game; he was their meal ticket to the 2005 BCS national title game. Today’s 18- to 21-year-olds may not be so selfless.
“You’ve got to keep young people happy these days,” Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “If you don’t do it now, they have this I’m-going-to-transfer attitude.”
Peterson had 339 rushing attempts in 2004. That season, then-offensive coordinator Chuck Long used an I-back formation with bulldozer J.D. Runnels at fullback, a position that’s practically gone the way of leather helmets.
Over the last five seasons, only eight FBS players nationally have had more carries than Peterson did as a freshman. Last season, Boston College’s Andre Williams rushed for 2,177 yards on 355 carries, but he was a senior.
Power is out and finesse is in. Big 12 coaches think that’s a selling point for their league, TCU’s Gary Patterson said. If you’re a recruit with NFL dreams, he said, it’s better for your body long term to play in a passing league like the Big 12 than the right-down-your-throat SEC.
“Most defenses are all about stopping speed now,” Baylor’s Art Briles said. “If you’re patient enough to line up with six offensive linemen, you get three yards per carry and people stand up cheer, more power to you.”
Look at how Baylor spread the ball around last season. Lache Seastrunk had 158 rushing attempts, Shock Linwood had 128 and Glasco Martin had 120. Seastrunk is the only player among the three that rushed for more than 1,000 yards.
“Let’s look at Baylor,” Patterson said. “They could have run with one guy. They just chose to run with more guys so people can stay healthy.”
Maintaining a fast tempo is the top priority for a spread offense. A typical game can feature 70-80 plays. If things get out of hand, offensive plays can stack up. BYU clicked off 99 offensive plays in a 40-21 blowout win over Texas. With that many plays, you must spread the ball around.
“Eventually you’re going to have to put somebody else in to get repetitions because that person is going to get gassed,” Oklahoma State receiver Jhajuan Seals said. “That’s if you want to keep a fast tempo.”
Now it’s almost assumed a team needs multiple running backs. Texas senior Malcolm Brown’s stated goal is to break the 1,000-yard barrier this season, something no Longhorn has done since 2007. “I feel like in the Big 12, if you break that 1,000 mark, some good things will happen,” Brown said.
But UT running backs coach Tommie Robinson has made it clear that multiple players will see the field. Brown, Johnathan Gray and freshman Donald Catalon all will get playing time.
Football is cyclical, so it’s possible an I-back formation could return on an every-down basis. But Briles believes that fans and administrators want to see points, and lots of them. Thus, the spread is here to stay.
And Peterson’s record probably is, too.
“You got beat a couple games by 17-13 or 17-10, they might say, ‘Hey, coach, it’s called the forward pass,’ “ Briles said. “If you’ve got the 10 and there’s 12:07 left in the first quarter, that’s a good start.”