How Good is UT's Run Defense? We'll Know Soon

It's a classic confrontation of the irresistible object versus the immovable force. Mister 'irresistible', in this case, is Oklahoma junior Adrian Peterson (the nation's third leading rusher) who will not face a 'force' all year like Texas; run defense (No. 2 nationally). Come Saturday afternoon in the Cotton Bowl, something's gotta give.

Simply put, the clash between Peterson and Texas' defensive front is the most intriguing and intensive match-up either program will face all season. Indirectly, Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik has said that Peterson is a litmus test that will determine whether his run defense is as good as its gaudy numbers (36.6 ypg) have indicated.

"Check with me after Saturday," Chizik said.

Then again, we won't have to. We will know, based on the evidence, if Texas is able to contain the legitimate Heisman candidate who is stepping off 160.75 ypg. Peterson is currently 442 yards shy of RB Billy Simms' career rushing mark (4,118) set in 1975-79 and who won the 1978 Heisman Trophy as a junior. Peterson's unofficial 'coming out party' was OU's 12-0 win over Texas in 2004 when he collected 225 yards on 32 carries. A high ankle sprain all but sidelined him during last year's 45-12 Texas shellacking, when he carried just three times for 10 yards.

"At practice (last year), he seemed like he was ready to go," Sooner coach Bob Stoops recalled, "but the truth comes when you're out there trying to make cuts and accelerate like you're used to doing. When he got out there, he wasn't able to do it. We told him that it wasn't fair to him or to the team if he was just three-quarters speed. He tried, and we appreciate the toughness but, in the end, he was not able to do it."

Now that Peterson is full-throttle, there are a host of opinions on how to contain him.

Said SS Michael Griffin: "We have to get him before he gets going. If he gets going, it's like trying to stop a freight train."

Said SLB Robert Killebrew: "You have to gang-tackle him. He's in pure form right now. It's going to take a team effort to stop him."

Said DT Derek Lokey: "If everybody hits their gaps and plays disciplined defense, we should be able to slow him down."

Others have noted Peterson's running style (stiff and upright, yet reminiscent of NFL great Gayle Sayers) indicates that solid shots between the numbers could knock him off his stride. More than anything, Peterson has a knack for breaking from the pile and then running downhill. He gets better with each successive carry; nearly two-thirds of his yards have come in the second half this season. Even more impressive is that he runs behind a suspect offensive line that returned just one starter from last season (LT Chris Messner).

"When he doesn't have daylight, he makes it on his own," Chizik said.

Some have questioned if the stats for Texas' run defense might be a bit skewed, given that the schedule has included two D-I patsies and one I-AA school. The defensive front, however, held up its end of the bargain by limiting Ohio State to 79 net rushing yards on 29 attempts. But there is no questioning that Peterson is a rare breed, one of the best to play the game, and is averaging 5.5 ypc. Just like there is no question that Texas' defensive strategy is to slow Peterson.

"Any time you play football, your first goal is to stop the run and make them one-dimensional by throwing the ball," Lokey said. "We're going to try to hold Peterson down and, when they start to throw, get pressure on the passer."

The good news for Texas is that, relatively speaking, the defense is healthier than at any point this season. DE Brian Robison is expected to start after missing the SHSU (bruised quad). FS Marcus Griffin and SS Michael Griffen are listed atop this week's depth chart. WLB Drew Kelson will get the brunt of the snaps after missing the first three games of the season (high ankle sprain). Kelson saw his first game-day action of the season when logged about 20 snaps against Iowa State (this coming after returning to practice just four days before kickoff). He played the first half against outmanned Sam Houston State, but coaches saw no need to play him after intermission with a 42-point lead.

"I definitely feel well," Kelson said.

Added Chizik, "For Drew, it's just a matter of getting back into playing-shape, and that comes with more reps."

Horns fans are crossing their fingers that this could a breakout game for freshman SLB Sergio Kindle. The jewel of the 2006 recruiting class will play in his native Dallas for the first time as a Longhorn.and has slowly worked his way into the rotation after spraining his ankle on the second day of August camp. He led his team in tackles with nine stops against the Bearkats. Still, there is some concern among Horn fans that Kindle might become the 'Cedric Benson' of 2006 in that a highly-touted freshman was held out of the OU game only to be pressed into action the following week.

"I would anticipate Sergio playing this week," Chizik said, "but how much depends on different circumstances. We're going to continue to bring him along."

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