Aug. 9, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. --The identity of Stanford's program is deeply-rooted in its ability to run the ball, something the Cardinal has done very well over the last four seasons.
Stanford has established four of the school's top five single-season rushing marks each of the last four seasons. Last year's final total of 2,738 yards ranks third on the all-time single-season list, slightly behind the school-record mark of 2,837 compiled by the 2009 squad and the 2,779 yards amassed by the 2010 Orange Bowl team.
With two of its top three rushers returning from a year ago, including Doak Walker Award candidate Stepfan Taylor, along with a young stable of hungry backs looking to take on larger roles, Stanford will again rely on a power running game to key an offense that has set school-scoring records each of the last three seasons.
"We believe we will impose our will on everybody we play," said running backs coach Mike Sanford. "Every defense has its breaking point and we're looking to move past that breaking point."
Head coach David Shaw calls Taylor "the most underrated back in college football" - and for good reason. Operating in the huge shadows cast by Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck, Taylor has quietly rushed for 2,770 yards and 27 touchdowns over the last three seasons.
Taylor enters his final campaign needing 1,263 more to tie Darrin Nelson's all-time school rushing record while his 27 career rushing touchdowns currently rank third in Stanford's career annals. He is one of six Stanford backs to record a 1,000-yard season and just the third back to register back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, joining Nelson (1977-78) and Gerhart (2008-09).
A second team All-Pac-12 selection last year as a junior, Taylor rushed for 1,330 yards on 242 carries (5.5) and averaged 102.3 yards per game which ranked fourth in the Pac-12 and 21st nationally. His final single-season rushing total was the second highest mark in school history, behind Gerhart's 2009 total of 1,871. He capped off his brilliant campaign by rushing for a career high 177 yards on 35 carries against Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl, marking his 13th career 100-yard game.
"We are absolutely depending on Stepfan to keep the chains moving and get us into the end zone," said Sanford. "He's the model of consistency and sets the tone for our offense. He doesn't say a whole lot but he goes out and does. His body of work is unrivaled and he has done that with sharing time with other runners."
Stanford's depth at running back will be provided by junior Anthony Wilkerson (56-282; 3 TDs), along with a large group of young backs, including sophomores Jackson Cummings and Ricky Seale, redshirt freshmen Remound Wright and incoming freshman Barry J. Sanders, who was rated as one of the top high school backs on the nation last season.
"Anthony is a prototypical running back and a home run hitter for us," said Sanford. He is a runner who needs his touches to get in rhythm and he thrives off being able to carry the ball 4, 5, 6 times in a row. He can wear you down because he's big and physical."
Juniors Ryan Hewitt (10-35; 7 TDs) and Geoff Meinken (12-90), sophomore Lee Ward and redshirt freshman Patrick Skov round out the list of fullbacks on the roster. Hewitt proved to be one of the most versatile players in the country last year, lining up receiver, wing, tight end as well as his fullback position.
"His number (85) and size says tight end, but he's a traditional fullback," said Sanford. "He's Mr. Versatility and we have to be more intentional in getting the ball into his hands. He is as bad as a dude as you'll find. He's looking to run downhill and blow someone up, much like Owen (Marecic) did. He sends out a very physical message for our offense."