Stanford Returns Its Top Four Ground Gainers From a Year Ago
Stepfan Taylor was the first Stanford sophomore to rush for over 1,000 yards since Darrin Nelson in 1978.
July 18, 2011
STANFORD, Calif. - This is the first of a nine-part series that will breakdown Stanford by position as the Cardinal prepare for the start of training camp on Monday, August 8. In the first installment of Stanford's position previews, we take a look at the Cardinal running game, which has posted three of the top four rushing marks in school history over the last three campaigns.
Stanford returns its four leading rushers from a year ago who accounted for the second-highest rushing total (2,779 yards) in school history, despite not having a back that averaged more than 87.5 yards per game.
Last season, despite the loss of 2009 unanimous All-America selection Toby Gerhart, the Cardinal ran for 2,779 yards and ranked 17th nationally in rushing offense (213.77 average).
Under the direction of first-year running backs coach Mike Sanford and running game coordinator Mike Bloomgren, the Cardinal returns 91.3 percent of its rushing offense from last season, including junior running back Stepfan Taylor, who finished with 1,137 yards on 223 attempts and 15 touchdowns. Taylor, an honorable mention all-conference selection last season, became the first Stanford sophomore to rush for over 1,000 yards since Darrin Nelson (1978) and was just the sixth back to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark in the history of the program.
His 15 rushing touchdowns last season were the third-highest total in school history, tying Gerhart, who also rushed for 15 scores in 2008. Taylor also had seven, 100-yard games on the year, including a season-best 142-yard effort against Washington State. He became just the second back in school history to run for 100 yards in five straight games, joining Gerhart, who closed out his magnificent career with seven consecutive 100-yard games.
"Stepfan is impossible to take out the game because he rarely makes a mistake," said Sanford. "He's trying to take that next step physically so he can break some more arm tackles."
One of the top dual threat quarterbacks in the nation, Andrew Luck was Stanford's second-leading rusher a year ago, tallying 453 yards on 55 carries (8.2 per rush), which was the highest rushing total ever by a Stanford quarterback. He had three runs of 50 yards or more on the season (58 at Cal; 52 TD vs. Wake Forest; 51 TD at Washington) and has rushed for 807 yards on 116 carries and five TDs in 25 career games.
"Andrew is the catalyst of our running game from the beginning," said Sanford. "When he is in the huddle, he has the confidence you can't find anywhere else in college football from the quarterback position. Plus, he is a guy you have to account for with two defenders, which really helps our running game."
Wilkerson was named the team's most outstanding freshman a year ago after running for 408 yards on 89 carries (4.6) and three touchdowns. He carried just 22 times for 83 yards over the first six games of the season but took on a larger role down the stretch, gaining 325 yards on 66 carries over the final seven contests.
Even thought injuries forced him to miss three games last season, Gaffney still managed to gain 255 yards on 60 carries for a 4.2 average to rank as Stanford's third most productive running back. Continuing in Stanford's tradition of multi-sport athletes, Gaffney is also a two-year starter on the Cardinal's baseball team and has earned all-conference recognition each of the last two seasons.
Stewart, who was granted a fifth-year of eligibility this year after playing in four games in 2008, is considered to be Stanford's most powerful and best blocker among the running backs. He broke off a career long 60-yard run to give Stanford its first touchdown in the Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech, however, various injuries have forced him to miss 16 of 38 games over the last three seasons.
"We have four maybe five backs in our system that would be feature backs for just about any program in the country," said Sanford. "They have done a tremendous job in putting selfishness and their desires to carry the ball 30 times a game aside for the greater good of the team."
Redshirt freshman Ricky Seale looks to see his first game action of his career, with highly-touted freshman recruits Remound Wright (Fort Wayne, IN / Bishop Dwenger HS) and Kelsey Young (Norco / Norco HS) patiently waiting in the wings.
"Owen is a guy we counted on for four years," said Sanford. "From day one to the very last day of his career, he was tough, dependable and a tone-setter.
"The thing that is so great about the guys we have at that position now is they have learned from the standard-bearer for that position in all of college football."