What a Rush
Oklahoma's AdrianPeterson ran wild, but Oregon's Jonathan Stewart did too in the Ducks'improbable comeback win
As Oklahomarunning back Adrian Peterson walked, stone-faced, off the field at Oregon'sAutzen Stadium last Saturday, his Ducks counterpart, sophomore JonathanStewart, was being swept in the opposite direction by the tide of Oregonstudents giddy about their team's improbable 34--33 victory over the Sooners.Stewart, who wears the same number, 28, and runs with a blend of power, speedand balance similar to Peterson's, never came close to the Oklahoma star in thebedlam. That was a shame, because on so-called Separation Saturday, Stewartproved that there's not much that separates the two rushers.
Oregon andOklahoma played the most entertaining game of the season to date, complete witha chaotic finish that included two touchdowns, a successful onside kick and, onthe game's final play, a blocked field goal by the Ducks (as well as a pair ofhighly questionable referees' calls that went in their favor), all in the final1:12. But none of that could overshadow the virtuoso performances by Stewartand Peterson. It appeared that Peterson's brilliant fourth quarter, in which herushed for 145 yards (he finished with 211 yards and a touchdown on 34carries), would be enough to lead the Sooners to victory. Stewart played only aminor part in the wild final minutes, in which Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixonran for one touchdown and threw for another 46 seconds later, but withoutStewart's 23 carries for 144 yards and a touchdown, the Ducks would never havebeen in position for their dramatic comeback.
Stewart was ratedthe top running back in the country by some recruiting services when he cameout of Timberline High in Lacey, Wash., in 2005 and spurned schools such as USCand Tennessee to stay close to home. But until Saturday his bursts ofbrilliance had always been tempered by signs of fragility, leading to questionsabout his willingness to play with pain. A case in point: He rushed for 168yards in the Ducks' opening-game win over Stanford, then carried only once lastweek against Fresno State because of a sprained right ankle.
But Stewart, whois 5'11" and weighs 234 pounds, was a workhorse against the Sooners (2--1),bulling his way between the tackles as well as turning the corner on sweeps,even though he said after the game that the ankle was far from healed. "Iappreciate the way he sucked it up today and toughed it out for the team,"said Ducks coach Mike Bellotti, whose son Luke executed the onside kick thatset up Oregon's winning touchdown. "Jonathan can be the same type of player[as Peterson]." Having seen the Sooners' standout, a 6'2", 218-poundjunior, up close may help Stewart reach that level. "He hits the hole sofast, it's unbelievable," Stewart says.
Peterson'sperformance against the Ducks was symbolic of his career to date: undeniablyimpressive, at times even breathtaking, but not entirely satisfying. He set afreshman record with 1,925 rushing yards in 2004 and finished second in theHeisman voting, but he was limited to 82 yards on 25 carries in a crushing lossto USC in the national championship game. Last season opposing defenses,unafraid of Sooners freshman quarterback Rhett Bomar's passing, stacked theline of scrimmage to stop Peterson. Battling leg injuries, he ran for 1,108yards, and Oklahoma finished a disappointing 8--4. Now Peterson has an evenbigger burden since Bomar was booted off the team in August after acceptingmoney illegally for a no-show summer job. "We're asking a lot of AD,"said Oklahoma quarterback Paul Thompson, who shifted over from wide receiverwhen Bomar left. "You ask great players to do great things."
But no matter howwell Peterson plays, it rarely seems to be enough. Had the Sooners held on towin on Saturday, his outstanding fourth quarter would have stood as a classicexample of a star carrying his team to victory. Instead, Oklahoma coach BobStoops was asked afterward if he thought Peterson had waited until the fourthquarter to shift into high gear. The coach bristled at the suggestion."He's always determined," Stoops said. "But I guess that when youhave the talent of an Adrian Peterson, people always want more."
Clearly, Petersonis trying to deliver more, warming to the role of the Sooners' unquestionedleader. He returned kickoffs on Saturday for the first time in his career, andas he walked off the field before Oklahoma's field goal attempt with twoseconds left, he pulled kicker Garrett Hartley aside for a pep talk. "Itold him it was just like practice," Peterson said. "Nopressure."
But there waspressure, of course, just as there is pressure on Peterson to keep the Soonersin the hunt for the Big 12 title and make a serious run at the Heisman. Withstardom comes the burden of great, even unfair demands. If Stewart continues toplay the way he did against the Sooners, he will learn that soon enough.
Indiana CoachRaring to Return
Indiana fell toDivision I-AA Southern Illinois 35--28 last Saturday, but the loss was morethan outweighed by the good news the Hoosiers had received earlier in the week:Doctors said the brain surgery undergone by the team's coach, Terry Hoeppner,had been a success, according to his son, Drew.
Hoeppner, 59, wason the operating table for 2 1/2 hours on Sept. 13, about nine months aftersurgeons removed a tumor from his brain. The coach needed the second procedureafter a follow-up scan on Sept. 8 revealed a spot.
The Hoosiers mayhave to change the locks on Hoeppner's office door to keep the relentlesslypositive coach from returning to work too soon. When he was told last week thathe needed the second operation, Hoeppner asked whether it could wait untilafter Indiana's bowl game and signing day. His doctors persuaded him that thesurgery was a little more urgent than that.
After his firstoperation Hoeppner began carrying around a note card with one word and itsdefinition written on it: dispatch--efficient speed, promptness. "You'llhear that word a lot around here," he said then. "All my players needto understand you'd better play with dispatch, or you're not going to play. Weneed to do everything with dispatch." So it wasn't surprising that Hoeppnerwas back in Memorial Stadium on Saturday, watching his team from the press boxagainst Southern Illinois.
Hoeppner's doctortold him it would be two to four weeks before he could return to the sideline.The coach is aiming for two, and it wouldn't be wise to bet against him. Thesedays Hoeppner does everything with dispatch.
By virtue of its24--17 win over Central Florida last Saturday, South Florida is off to itssecond 3--0 start in the 10-year history of the program. Three other DivisionI-A schools are off to 3--0 starts for the first time in 16 years or more.
LAST TIME 3--0: 1990
THIS WEEK: Oklahoma State
LAST TIME 3--0: 1981
THIS WEEK: Howard
LAST TIME 3--0: 1987
THIS WEEK: at Ole Miss
TRUE GRIT Stewart showed his toughness by running for 144 yards on a sprained ankle.
ROBERT BECK (PETERSON)
BITTER LOSS As dazzling as Peterson was, his day ended with yet another letdown.