Vols facing return whiz

Vols facing return whiz

September 29th, 2010 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Contributed photo LSU's Patrick Peterson

If Patrick Peterson has any visions this week, Tennessee could be in serious trouble.

Peterson's 60-yard punt return for a touchdown last Saturday gave LSU a 17-0 lead in its 20-14 win over West Virginia. He also scored on an 87-yard punt return in the 30-24 opening escape of North Carolina but said his latest is his favorite.

"I kind of knew that was going to happen," Peterson said. "Before the opening kickoff, I was thinking, 'I'm definitely going to get one tonight.' When a game gets near, I have visions, kind of like daydreaming and seeing myself running into the end zone. I can tell when it's going to be a pretty good night."

The 6-foot-1, 222-pound junior cornerback from Pompano Beach, Fla., must be dreaming a lot these days, because every Saturday has been good this season.

Against North Carolina, Peterson returned four punts for 157 yards and returned three kickoffs for 100 yards, with a long of 47. He had two interceptions in LSU's 29-7 win over Mississippi State on Sept. 18, including one he returned for 46 yards, and he partially blocked a 28-yard field-goal try last week against the Mountaineers.

The No. 12 Tigers (4-0) host the Vols (2-2) on Saturday afternoon.

"He takes nothing for granted," LSU coach Les Miles said. "He's made some great plays and certainly has the potential to turn games around individually. With his want to be the best and the way he approaches practice, he's liable to have one of the spectacular years I've been around."

Peterson entered this season as one of the SEC's top pro prospects after holding his own last year against Georgia receiver A.J. Green and Alabama's Julio Jones. He had a 37-yard interception return for a touchdown at Mississippi State a year ago and returned a blocked field-goal kick 53 yards for a score at Ole Miss.

Filling the return-game shoes of Trindon Holliday and Chad Jones was going to be a challenge, as Jones averaged 21.5 yards on punt returns last season and Holliday averaged 24.4 yards on kickoff returns. Yet Peterson is No. 2 nationally in punt returns with a 28.11 average and 15th in kickoff returns at 31.67 yards per attempt.

West Virginia stayed away from Peterson last week on kickoffs.

"I was surprised I did so well so quickly, but I'm not surprised at the plays I've been making," Peterson said. "I knew I could make plays in this system when I was behind Trindon and Chad and seeing those creases and the guys who were blocking for them. I figured I could get used to this once those guys left, and I did. I'm having a lot of fun with it right now."

So much fun that Peterson struck the Heisman pose after last Saturday's score. That resulted in a 15-yard penalty for excessive celebration, but it may not be the last time Peterson and the trophy are linked.

LSU sports information director Michael Bonnette said if Peterson continues to excel against Tennessee and next week against Florida, two games that will be televised nationally, the publicity will start.

"Without a doubt we're going to push him," Bonnette said. "He's very deserving."

When he's not breaking free in special teams, Peterson continues to be a stellar performer in LSU's secondary. The Tigers rank fifth nationally in scoring defense, allowing 12 points a game, and are ninth in total defense (254.0) after holding West Virginia to 177 yards.

LSU's defense is coordinated by John Chavis, who had the same job at Tennessee from 1995 to 2008.

"I think this game means a lot to him," Peterson said. "I don't believe he's ever played Tennessee before, so I know he wants to go out there and get a victory. He definitely wants to beat his old team."

Peterson admits he's a fan of former Tennessee safety Eric Berry, who left after his junior season and was a top-five pick in April's NFL draft. Peterson could follow that same path, and he is experiencing what Berry went through last year.

Not many quarterbacks threw Berry's way, just like they're avoiding Peterson now.

"We feel like it's a challenge to throw against our secondary, period," Miles said, "but we look forward to anybody wanting to throw the ball and try to challenge Patrick."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.