Tony Peterson made a risky move in 2013. He was a record-setting quarterback at Marshall in the late 1980's and later had success in Huntington as a quarterback coach, where he tutored Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich. Peterson was back at his alma mater in 2013 after spending several years at Minnesota and Iowa State. He had been back three years, and Marshall was looking really good. Rakeem Cato was entering his junior year after passing for over 4,200 yards and 37 touchdowns as a sophomore.
So with all that promise at Marshall (Cato went on to have a huge junior year and is a dark horse Heisman candidate as a senior), Peterson took the risk and joined Skip Holtz's staff as offensive coordinator. Maybe it was the chance to call the shots on offense that drew the Lodi, CA native to Ruston. The problem was, the Bulldogs didn't have a Rakeem Cato; they didn't have a starting quarterback. Scotty Young and Ryan Higgins struggled behind an inexperienced offensive line.
It's got to be bittersweet for Peterson to see Marshall predicted by some to go undefeated, while Tech is fighting to get to 6 or 7 wins and bowl eligibility. The Bulldogs have loaded up on transfers and a few impact recruits in hopes of sparking an offense that fell from first in the nation (577 yards per game) in 2012 to 94th (366 yards) in 2013.
Despite the help at receiver and offensive line, Peterson and the offense's fate lie in the hands (or the right arm) of former Iowa quarterback Cody Sokol. Sokol is battling Higgins for the starting job and Peterson needs someone to lead his offense down the field and into the end zone.
Coach Holtz is likely to take a bigger role in the offense this season, because ultimately the success and failures of the team fall on him. It doesn't matter who gets the blame if the offense goes South, Tech fans will be quick to call out the quarterback, the head coach, and the offensive coordinator. Tech legend Tim Rattay is on the staff as receivers coach, and his fans will be barking loud for the offense to be turned over to him.
Peterson could have stayed at Marshall and rode Rakeem Cato to more success, but he has been there and he has done it twice already. He's got guts and confidence, and he has a proven track record. If it wasn't for Peterson, we may not have ever heard of Pennington, Leftwich, or Cato. Tech has the talent to turn it around and optimism is creeping back into Joe Alliet stadium. Can Peterson put it together and help lead the offense to the kind of output that he envisioned when he made the move halfway across the country?
Odds are the team will improve by two or three games in the win column, get bowl eligible, and continue building the program. There's enough talent in place to get the job done.