Murray Trying To Be Sooners' Next Freshman Phenom

Thursday, October 11th 2007, 5:15 pm
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ Adrian Peterson thrust his arms in the air at the sight of another Oklahoma tailback racing past Texas defenders and down the sideline.

Three years earlier, Peterson had one of the first signature runs of his college career on a 44-yard gain down that same northern sideline _ and now another freshman was following in his footsteps.

DeMarco Murray's 65-yard touchdown run against the Longhorns last week was the latest showcase of his breakaway speed, which is becoming a more common sight for opponents. He had a 92-yard TD run against Utah State earlier this season, then added the third-quarter burst against Texas, hurdling tight end Joe Jon Finley and accelerating past safety Marcus Griffin as he approached at an angle.

``He can hold his top speed for so long,'' offensive guard Brian Simmons said. ``If you saw that long run, Griffin is a really fast defender and he just put the burners on him.

``I didn't know that he could hold his speed that long. That's something rare. A lot of guys can run fast for 40 yards, but most guys can't run fast for 60 yards like that.''

Afterward, he got a pat on the back from Peterson, who three years ago became the first freshman to finish as high as second in the Heisman Trophy balloting.

``I told him to keep running the ball,'' said Peterson, a first-round draft pick by Minnesota in this year's NFL draft who watched the Red River Rivalry in person on the Vikings' off week. ``He's running the ball hard. He needs to focus on protecting the ball. It was loose a little bit earlier. I was just telling him to keep doing what he's doing.''

Murray, who redshirted last year while nursing a turf toe injury, combines some of the skills of Peterson with some from his favorite player when he was in high school, 2005 Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush of Southern California.

As a former linebacker, he can be a bruiser like Peterson but he's also versatile enough to line up in the slot like Bush to run or receive.

``Three years, four years from now, we can see his health and how he plays and what he's about. He's off to a great start,'' Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. ``He's got some of that ball skill, speed, big-play ability. He can catch and be a part of the return game. ...

``They're not exactly alike. Reggie Bush is definitely a special player, and DeMarco's off to a great start.''

Through six games, Murray leads the No. 6 Sooners (5-1, 1-1 Big 12) with 444 yards rushing and nine touchdowns while splitting time with two other tailbacks. He's gaining 6.6 yards per carry _ a number bolstered by his two long runs.

``There's a lot of speed out there, and the speed he showed Saturday, he just walked off on guys,'' said starting tailback Allen Patrick, who had a 69-yard TD run of his own earlier this season. ``He might have a little game speed behind him. You get in the open field, it's going to be hard to catch him.''

In winter testing, Murray ran the 40-yard dash faster than anyone else on the team _ 4.43 seconds _ and he had the second-best vertical jump at 41 inches.

``He's a special player, there's no doubt,'' running backs coach Cale Gundy said. ``He's a guy who's very skilled, can do a lot of things. I'm just glad to have him part of our team.''

Murray played linebacker and defensive back until he arrived at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas and an assistant coach offered him a shot at running back. He ended up starting all season for the junior varsity team and had already caught the Sooners' eye by the time he was a sophomore.

His senior year, he ran for 1,947 yards and 27 touchdowns, and caught 22 passes for 724 yards and seven touchdowns _ all while also playing defense.

``To have that big play ability, he's a pretty physical kid,'' Wilson said. ``He makes some flashy plays that everybody gets excited about, but sometimes those 2- and 3- and 4-yard runs are pretty good. It's him playing behind his pads and playing with a physical presence.

``That's a unique combination to have that skill level and still have some of the physical toughness that goes with it.''

Murray figures he's still got some improving to do, and he keeps in touch with Peterson via text message when he can. Given the chance Saturday, he picked Peterson's brain in person.

``He just told me to keep running full speed and keep making plays,'' Murray said. ``As long as I keep running hard and try to make plays happen for the team, I think we're going to be all right.''

Even with his hot start, it'll be difficult for Murray to reach the standard set by Peterson _ an NCAA freshman record 1,925 yards rushing in 2004.

``I'm trying to get on his level,'' Murray said. ``But I'm not quite there yet.''