Boise State's Ian Johnson vs. Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) -Boise State's Ian Johnson didn't hesitate in comparing himself to Oklahoma star Adrian Peterson.

``He is bigger, he is stronger, he is faster,'' Johnson said. ``Besides that, we don't compare.''

The sophomore running back has been one of the brightest personalities in the days leading up to the Fiesta Bowl, holding court for reporters at the Fiesta Bowl media day Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium, site of Monday night's game between the Broncos and Sooners.

``I love being able to talk to people,'' he said, ``to tell my story.''

As Boise State coach Chris Petersen put it, ``he brings a freshness to the game.''

Petersen was offensive coordinator when the Broncos recruited Johnson out of Damien High School in San Dimas, Calif. The coach acknowledges he had no idea that Johnson would be this good.

``When you're recruiting an Adrian Peterson and some of the guys that Oklahoma has, you kind of know what you're getting,'' the Boise State coach said, ``but the rest of us, half the time you don't know. I think recruiting is an art not a science. That's the beauty of the whole college football process.''

Johnson turned out to be a true find. He averaged 5.6 yards per carry in part-time duty as a freshman, then as a full-time starter this season he broke the Boise State rushing record with 1,613 yards, an average of 6.4 yards per attempt. He led major college football with 24 touchdowns and was second in yards rushing per game at 146.64.

At 5-foot-11 and 194 pounds, Johnson picks his way through the Broncos' zone blocking system.

``He's a very patient runner,'' Petersen said. ``That's probably his strength. Sometimes we're on the sidelines going `Hit it, hit that hole,' but he's bouncing and weaving and then he kind of does things on his own. That's his style.''

And tough? No doubt about that.

On Nov. 11, Johnson played most of his team's 23-20 victory over San Jose State with a collapsed lung and two broken ribs.

``When a guy acts like he acts, you don't really think of a tough guy,'' Petersen said, ``but he's as tough as they come, and I think that whole package just makes him a special person.''

Johnson was hurt with nine minutes to go in the second quarter.

He was pretty sure he had cracked his ribs but didn't think it was any more serious than that.

``It was one of those things where I thought to myself 'Between the whistles, I can play,''' he said. '''Whether or not I'm sucking wind between plays, I'm good enough to play.'''

After gaining 149 yards and scoring a touchdown in Boise State's closest game of the season, Johnson was sent to a San Jose hospital, where tests uncovered the punctured lung.

``He was telling me he was hurting a little bit during the game and I was kind of teasing him like 'Come on, toughen up Ian,''' offensive guard Jeff Cavender said. ``But a collapsed lung and broken ribs? That just shows the heart and determination that he has, and the strength too. I definitely gained a whole ton of respect for him after that game.''

Johnson spent five nights in the hospital before returning to Boise. He missed the following week's game against Utah State, but returned Nov. 25 - wearing a flak jacket - and rushed for 147 yards and three touchdowns in a victory over Nevada that clinched the Broncos' undefeated regular season and BCS bowl berth.

The ribs are healed and the lung is fine, now, but Johnson said he's promised to wear a flak jacket Monday as a precaution, whether he wants to or not.

With Oklahoma's Peterson returning for the bowl contest after missing seven games with a broken collarbone, Johnson has been exceedingly good-natured about the matchup between two. He was asked who would win a fight between the two.

``He's huge!'' an incredulous Johnson replied. ``I'm not a fighter. You can ask anyone. I'm a small person.''

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