Pac-12: Jeremy Stewart

Gaffney's return a boost for Cardinal

February, 11, 2013
One of the biggest questions facing Stanford in 2013 was how would it replace so many key offensive players who graduated or left for the NFL following the highly-successful 2012 season.

Enter -- errr -- re-enter Tyler Gaffney, who could prove to be a game-changer for the Cardinal.

[+] EnlargeTyler Gaffney
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireTyler Gaffney is returning to Stanford after a year in minor-league baseball.
Gaffney announced that he'll return to the Cardinal on April 1 after spending one year playing minor league baseball. His college eligibility for baseball is up, but he has one year remaining on his "football clock."

You put an outstanding athlete like Gaffney behind Stanford's offensive line and you have the makings of a 1,000-yard rusher who can take the pressure off of quarterback Kevin Hogan and allow the Cardinal to do what they want to do on offense -- which is pound the football.

Gaffney spent the bulk of his career backing up Stepfan Taylor -- and there's no shame in that because Taylor was one of the greatest backs in Stanford history. In three years Gaffney totaled 791 yards and 12 touchdowns, plus three receiving touchdowns. In 2011, he rushed for 449 yards (6.1 average) and seven touchdowns.

With his return, Gaffney gives a fairly inexperienced running back corps an immediate veteran presence and you'd expect he jumps to the top of the list of candidates to replace Taylor. And you have to assume he'll be in pretty good shape, too. After all, he's been a professional athlete for the last year. He'll know the system, since it hasn't changed, so all he has to do is make friends with the new offensive linemen.

Remember, Gaffney was one of the most sought after backs on the West Coast coming out of Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego -- turning down offers from USC, UCLA, Notre Dame and Utah to come to The Farm. And I'm also a little bias because I've known him since he was a sophomore in high school and I watched him put on one of the greatest rushing performances in California prep history in the California State Championship game (current Oregon State quarterback Cody Vaz was pretty darn good in that game, too).

Given the opportunity to be a 15-to-20-carry back, Gaffney could do some damage. In 2011, he only had double-digit carries once. But remember in 2011 Stanford was rotating heavily between Taylor (242 carries), Gaffney (74), Anthony Wilkerson (56), Jeremy Stewart (55) and Andrew Luck (47).

The Cardinal will still likely be by-committee in 2013, more so than they were in 2012 when Taylor carried a league-high 322 times. But the addition of Gaffney is a major boost to a Stanford offense that has plenty of potential and talent, but is lacking in proven playmakers.

Pac-12 top 25 for 2012: No. 12

August, 16, 2012
Our countdown of the Pac-12's top 25 players in 2012 continues.

Most of this looks back, but, of course, there also is a good dose of projecting forward. A lot of good players, as it happens every year, won't make the preseason list. It is in their hands to make the postseason list.

You can review our 2011 postseason top 25 here.

12. Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford

2011 numbers: Rushed for 1,330 yards and 10 touchdowns on 242 carries. Had a healthy 5.5 yards per carry while also catching 27 balls and a pair of touchdowns.

2011 postseason ranking: No. 24.

Making the case for Taylor: It's time to stop calling Taylor one of the most underrated backs in the college football and start calling him one of the top, most complete running backs in the Pac-12. A back-to-back 1,000-yard rusher who was often overlooked because of the guy handing him the ball (that would be Andrew Luck for those with a short memory), Taylor will be the focal point of the Cardinal offense. That should come as no surprise to those who follow the team closely, because he was actually the focal point last year and the year before despite the presence of Luck. He's durable enough to carry the ball 25 to 30 times per game, but that's not how David Shaw uses him. With a rotation of four other backs last year -- and the expectation of a similar approach this year -- Taylor will continue to make the most of his opportunities. Expect, however, a slight increase in his carries in 2012 as the Cardinal break in a new quarterback. The departure of Tyler Gaffney and the graduation of Jeremy Stewart opens up some niche roles for younger backs -- but we'll likely see Taylor carry more of the load, especially early as the new quarterback continues to grow and the pecking order behind Taylor takes shape. A second-team all-conference pick last year, Taylor's receiving skills make him extremely versatile, and he's also Stanford's best blocking back.

No. 13: Kenjon Barner, RB, Oregon
No 14: Nickell Robey, CB, USC
No. 15: John White IV, RB, Utah
No. 16: John Boyett, S, Oregon
No. 17: Jordan Poyer, CB, Oregon State
No. 18: Khaled Holmes, C, USC
No. 19: Cameron Marshall, RB, Arizona State
No. 20: Dion Bailey, LB, USC
No. 21: Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
No. 22: Curtis McNeal, RB, USC
No. 23: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
No. 24: Isi Sofele, RB, California
No. 25: Jeff Tuel, QB, Washington State
We're looking at the top individual performances in the Pac-12 in 2011.

Up next: Stanford's running back corps.

Who & against whom? Stepfan Taylor, Tyler Gaffney, Anthony Wilkerson and Jeremy Stewart (among others) at home against Washington on Oct. 22.

The numbers: Taylor rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown, Gaffney rushed for 117 yards and a score, Wilkerson added 93 and two touchdowns and Stewart tacked on 20 and a score as Stanford rushed for a school record 446 yards against the Huskies. Worth noting that Andrew Luck, contributed 23, wide receiver Chris Owusu had a 45 yard end-around and fullback Geoff Meinken added a 10-yard run.

A closer look: First, no rushing record is complete without a tip of the cap to the big boys up front, who punctured holes that allowed Stanford five touchdowns on the ground and a ridiculous 10.1 yards per carry average. And negative rushing yards? Zero. That said, some of the praise also goes to Luck, who called a good chunk of the plays at the line of scrimmage and -- as David Shaw tells the story -- told his coach it was the finest game of his career. Washington's Chris Polk set the standard with 144 yards (including touchdown runs of 46 and 61 yards). But the Cardinal answered with a 70-yard touchdown run by Taylor (the longest of the season) and then a 38-yard touchdown by Wilkerson that set the school record. Oh yeah, Stanford also won 65-21. A historical night on The Farm.
Taking a look back at some of the best and worst moments from the Pac-12's bowl season.

Best overall performance (team): We're a field goal away from flipping a coin between Stanford and Oregon. But the Ducks won, and to the victor go the spoils. Say what you want about Wisconsin being overrated; Oregon beat a very good team with one of the most productive college running backs in history, and the Ducks did it on a major stage.

Best offensive performance (individual): Keith Price outdueled Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III, passing for 438 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for three more scores. And the Huskies lost! Someone on the Washington defense better be carrying his books around campus until the start of next season.

[+] EnlargeKeith Price
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireWashington's Keith Price passed for 438 yards and four touchdowns and also ran for another three touchdowns in a losing effort against Baylor.
Best offensive performance (team): As good as Washington's offensive show was against Baylor, Oregon did it against a tougher opponent and under a brighter spotlight. LaMichael James and De'Anthony Thomas both went for more than 100 yards, Lavasier Tuinei turned in season highs in catches (eight) and yards (158) to go with two touchdowns and the offensive line had its way with Wisconsin.

Best defensive performance (individual): In the conference's five losses, teams gave up an average of 41 points. Still, Cal first-team all-conference linebacker Mychal Kendricks did all he could to limit Texas to 21, notching nine solo tackles (10 total) and 1.5 tackles for a loss.

Best defensive performance (team): Pass.

Best offensive performance in a losing effort: Andrew Luck's one interception was the lone stain on an otherwise fantastic performance, in which he completed 27 of 31 passes for 347 yards and two touchdowns. He was 15-of-15 on all of Stanford's scoring drives and 4-for-4 on the final drive that set up the almost-game-winning field goal.

Worst offensive performance: Both Cal and UCLA faced fairly tough defenses in Texas and Illinois, respectively, and their 24 points combined reflected that. (For the record, Washington had 35 by halftime and Oregon had 28 at the half.) But the nod goes to Cal for 7 rushing yards on 36 attempts. That's 0.2 yards per carry. ASU was actually worse with minus-11 rushing yards, but at least it put up 24 points (well, 17 if you take away Rashad Ross' 98-yard kick return).

Worst defensive performance: As a conference, Pac-12 teams gave up an average of 455 yards in their bowl games. Washington was the worst offender with 777 yards yielded.

Best bang for buck: Oregon's De'Anthony Thomas. Two carries, two touchdowns, 155 yards and a 77.5 yards-per-carry average.

Best supporting cast: While Price was fantastic, lest we forget that Chris Polk ran for 147 yards, Jermaine Kearse caught five balls for 198 yards and a score and Devin Aguilar added two receiving touchdowns.

Best holiday spirit: Cal certainly got into the season, giving the ball away five times to Texas.

Best "Oh jeez" moment: Stanford running back Jeremy Stewart taking out teammate Ty Montgomery after he tried to run a kickoff out of the end zone. Stewart, a fifth-year senior, stopped the true freshman right at the line and dropped him, much to the chagrin of 69,927 at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Worst "Oh jeez" moment: Watching Dennis Erickson try to call a timeout when ASU had fourth-and-goal at the Boise 1-yard line. Then watching his face as Jamar Taylor picked off Brock Osweiler and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown.

What we learned about Stanford

January, 3, 2012
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Here's five things we learned about the Stanford Cardinal in the wake of Monday's 41-38 overtime loss to the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the Fiesta Bowl.
  1. A rare glimpse: During the season, Stanford has a closed locker room policy. But the BCS mandates them to open the locker room for postgame interviews. There was a side of the players we don't get to see -- specifically Andrew Luck. After his media responsibilities, he went locker to locker hugging each of his teammates and thanking them for the season. It was wonderful moment between college teammates that those outside of the inner circle rarely get to witness. I share it, because we usually only see "game-day" Luck or "news conference" Luck. And while it was ultimately a bittersweet moment, it was a special one that was neat to see.
  2. Taylor can carry the load: With three of five starting offensive lineman returning next season and three of the four-headed rushing attack also back (though Jeremy Stewart's role was often understated but incredibly important) the Cardinal should continue to put up good numbers on the ground in the coming seasons. Stepfan Taylor showed he can be an almost-every-down back if he has to be -- carrying 35 times for a career-high 177 yards and two touchdowns. It was an off night for Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson, just five carries for three net yards between them, but with Stewart's 65 and Taylor's big night, all four weren't needed.
  3. Lancaster, stud: Linebacker Jarek Lancaster played, minute-for-minute, probably the best football game of his career. He was flying all over the field and was tied for the team lead with seven tackles. Critical, however, were three open-field tackles -- something that had plagued the Cardinal (and still did Monday night) throughout the season. Lancaster took the one-on-one challenge and was sensational. With him, A.J. Tarpley and Shayne Skov returning next season, the Cardinal have a very good problem at inside linebacker.
  4. Every decision has a consequence: David Shaw is paid an insane amount of money (it's not public record, but I guarantee it's more than a college football blogger) to make some extremely difficult decisions. If Jordan Williamson had nailed the 35-yarder at the end of regulation, no one would question his decision to kick the game-winner. Ah, but regular readers of this blog know I abhor "what-ifs." The fact is Shaw made the decision he thought was best. It turned out to be the wrong one, and he's going to endure the fallout that comes from that. I see both sides. But my gut says OSU was on its heels and with the best run-blocking lineman in the country in David DeCastro, I would have pulled that big haas aside in one of the timeouts and said "make a hole that I can tow a 737 through." You know DeCastro would of. Plenty of spots along the way where the Cardinal could have prevented it from coming down to the final play. But what-ifs are worthless, and Shaw & Co. will learn from this experience.
  5. Time heals all wounds. Well, most of them: A good friend of mine in sports radio once said that sports are the most important, unimportant thing in the world. That always stuck with me. This game will go down in Stanford lore as one of the best , and worst, in school history. But I think the players and coaches will tell you, and I'm sure most will agree, that it's the journey, not the destination, that makes it all worthwhile.

Halftime: Stanford 21, OSU 21

January, 2, 2012
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Some first-half thoughts from the Fiesta Bowl.

Turning point: On fourth-and-4 at the Stanford 32, Brandon Weeden hit Justin Blackmon for 23 yards with less than a minute in the half, setting up first-and-goal. On third-and-goal at the 2, Weeden took it in himself to knot the score at 21-21. It was Weeden's first career rushing touchdown.

Stat of the half: After only 13 three-and-out drives all season, the Cardinal already have two in the first half.

Best player for Stanford: Linebacker Jarek Lancaster is having a fantastic game. He’s made several open-field tackles -- including two on critical third downs -- and been in on several others.

Best player for Oklahoma State: Blackmon became the first wide receiver to gain more than 100 yards on the Cardinal this season. Through the first 30 minutes, he has four catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns.

Best tackle of a teammate: Jeremy Stewart taking down Ty Montgomery on a kickoff that Montgomery thought about taking 5 yards deep out of the end zone. As Montgomery approached the line, Stewart brought him down. The form was questionable and it might have been helmet-to-helmet, but no flag was thrown.

Best fan-made sign in the stands: “Superman wears Andrew Luck socks.”

2Q: Stanford 14, OSU 14

January, 2, 2012
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- That's a little more like it. Both teams put together scoring drives that match their personalities.

The Cardinal went 87 yards on seven plays, using 4 minutes, 30 seconds of clock to cap the drive with a 24-yard touchdown run by Jeremy Stewart.

Oklahoma State answered with a four-play, 84-yard drive that took up just 1:11, ending with a 43-yard touchdown pass to Justin Blackmon.

The pair teamed up again on a 67-yard touchdown pass to tie the score.

Blackmon already has 110 receiving yards -- marking the first time this season the Cardinal has allowed a receiver to gain more than 100 yards.

About six minutes left in the quarter and OSU has regained the momentum after falling behind by two scores.

Cardinal runners thrive on competition

December, 28, 2011
Taylor & Gaffney & WilkersonUS PresswireStepfan Taylor (33), Anthony Wilkerson (32) and Tyler Gaffney (25) each give Stanford something a little different in the running game.
(Cue the Jan Brady voice) Andrew Luck, Andrew Luck, Andrew Luck!

It's all that anyone outside of the Bay Area talks about when the topic of Stanford football passes the lips.

Yeah, he's good. Really good. But he's certainly not the be-all, end-all when it comes to the Stanford offense. Lost in the Luck hyperbole is an incredibly efficient and potent rushing attack that more often than not takes a backseat to No. 12.

The Cardinal's run game will have to be at its best on Jan. 2 when Stanford takes on Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl. There are yards to be had against a Cowboys rush defense that ranks 83rd nationally and yields 180 yards per game.

The greatest victim of this overshadowing is running back Stepfan Taylor, whom head coach David Shaw has called one of the most underrated running backs in the nation on more than one occasion.

"I think he plays 7 yards behind one of the best players in Stanford school history," Shaw told reporters after practice last week. "I think that's why he's underrated."

Taylor is the perfect mixture of speed, power and balance. He plays more compact than his 5-foot-11, 210-pound frame and often drags opponents for extra yards. For the second straight year, Taylor has rushed for more than 1,000 yards, netting 1,153 this season to go with eight touchdowns and 5.6 yards per carry. And he's done it rotating with three other backs plus a fullback who usually gets a few carries each game.

"We have a short-yardage, goal-line back that gets a lot of touchdowns [Jeremy Stewart], but Stepfan still has been effective in the red zone and catching passes," Shaw said. "He just does everything well. Does everything right. I'm sure at some point he'll get his just due.

"But at the same time, he doesn't care. He has fun. He loves playing. He recognizes that we have Tyler Gaffney and these other guys that can play, too. I think he just loves playing with his teammates."

Taylor, along with Gaffney, Stewart, Anthony Wilkerson and -- at least a couple of times each week -- fullback Ryan Hewitt make up a rushing attack that produces almost 208 yards per game and ranks 22nd nationally.

"We all pretty much do different things," said Taylor, the most well-rounded of the backs and the strongest pass-blocker. "They like to use us, and we all deserve to be on the field. They find ways to get all of us involved. Stewie has the power; Wilk has the speed off the edge. The coaches find ways to put us in the best spots."

Like all of the aforementioned backs, Gaffney was "the guy" coming out of Cathedral Catholic High School in San Diego. So going to a running-back-by-committee wasn't easy to swallow. It's still not.

"It takes some adjustment, and I wouldn't say I like it," said Gaffney, who averages a team-high 6.4 yards per carry among players with at least 11 total carries. "You can't like it as a running back. You want the ball. You want to help the team as much as possible. There is a rhythm to the game where you feel how fast the flow is of the defense, whether they are real aggressive or playing back. You don't get to feel that rhythm because I'll be in for two or three plays and then out for 10. Or I'll be in for 10 and then out for three. You never really know how much you are going to play or when you're going to play. You are just waiting on the sideline for your number to be called."

And that breeds competition. Taylor knows Gaffney is lobbying for carries. Gaffney knows Wilkerson is lobbying for carries. Short-yardage specialist Stewart knows Hewitt could get the call on third-and-short.

"If you're not playing well, there is going to be a guy stepping up who will," Gaffney said. "You have to bring your A-game every carry and every play. I wouldn't say we're breathing down each other's necks, but for lack of a better term, that's what it is. You have a feeling that if you have a couple of bad runs, you might not be going back in, and they might let the other guy ride it out."

So, you have a brilliant quarterback who checks his running backs into the best play against the best defense, and you have four backs clawing at one another for carries. All that's missing is the best run-blocking offensive lineman in the country with a nasty attitude to boot. Oh yeah, Stanford has that, too.

"Football is a physical sport, and the point is to move the other guy," said guard David DeCastro, widely regarded as the most NFL-ready interior lineman in the country. "There is no magic pill you take that makes us run the ball well. It's practice and repetition and hard work. You're trying to push the other guy backwards. That's football."

The running back quartet has combined for 26 touchdowns and more than 2,000 yards on the ground this season. And, yes, even Luck has to get a lot of the credit for the success of the running game.

Shaw has spoken extensively about what Luck does pre-snap and how he coordinates the running game. So when lining up, do the running backs see the same things as Luck?

"I don't think anybody sees what he sees," Gaffney said. "When he puts us in a play, 99 times out of 100 we're in agreement that it is going to be our most successful rep."

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl

December, 4, 2011
Stanford Cardinal (11-1) vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys (11-1)

Jan. 2, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Stanford take by Stanford blogger Kevin Gemmell: Welcome back to the BCS. The Cardinal return after smoking Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl last season -- many thinking it was the final game for coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Andrew Luck.

Harbaugh left, Luck stayed. And he turned in a Heisman-worthy season, throwing 35 touchdowns to nine interceptions, including a perfect 26-0 touchdown-interception ratio in the red zone.

With a trio of top-flight tight ends -- headlined by Coby Fleener -- Luck has proved why he's considered the No. 1 NFL prospect. But he's not the only top draft pick on the team. Offensive tackle Jonathan Martin is considered one of the two best left tackles in college football and guard David DeCastro is the best interior lineman in the country.

The tight ends -- Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo -- have accounted for more than half of Luck's 35 passing touchdowns on the season.

But what makes Stanford go is its balance. Stepfan Taylor had his second straight 1,000-yard season, and he did it platooning with Tyler Gaffney, Jeremy Stewart and Anthony Wilkerson.

Defensively, Chase Thomas leads a front seven that is one of the best in college football. The loss of inside linebacker Shayne Skov in the third game of the season was a blow to the defense, but youngsters Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley have filled the void nicely -- steadily improving every week.

Oklahoma State take from Big 12 blogger David Ubben: The Cowboys are best known for their offense, and for good reason. Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon are one of the nation's best pass-catch combos, and between Blackmon's physical nature and Weeden's accuracy, they're a nightmare for defenses.

Making matters more difficult is Joseph Randle, who has quietly had one of the best seasons of any running back in the Big 12. He's racked up 1,193 rushing yards with 23 (!) rushing touchdowns. Only three players in college football have more TDs. The first-year starter might be the Cowboys' secret weapon.

Defensively, the raw numbers aren't great for the Cowboys, but those rumors you've heard? They're true. The defense is a lot better than most give it credit. The Cowboys have an efficient defense that plays well when it counts, and ranks second nationally with a plus-20 turnover margin. Tough to beat that.

Quinn Sharp and Justin Gilbert make things interesting on special teams, too. Sharp leads the nation in touchbacks, is one of the Big 12's best place-kickers, and would be one of the nation's best in punting average -- if he had enough attempts. Gilbert is a dangerous return man who already has four touchdown returns in his first two seasons.
Jeremy Stewart is in the market for a new nickname. If you come up with one, let him know. He's been stuck with "Patch" for a while, and he's not a fan.

"A track coach gave it to me when I was 12 and it just stuck," said the Stanford running back. "I have a little gray patch of hair on my head so that's where it comes from ... I recently made an announcement that we're ending that nickname. I'm trying to shake it."

Not that you could tell with his helmet on -- or with his facemask clearly planted in a linebackers chest. Stewart is Stanford's goal-line/short-yardage specialist. When two yards are needed, Stewart, more often than not, provides more.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Stewart
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesJeremy Stewart has averaged 4.1 yards per carry this season during critical, short-gain situations.
"It's like being a pinch hitter," said Stanford head coach David Shaw. "You have to stay warm. You have to stay ready. Because when you are coming into the game, you are coming in at the most vital part."

So far, the fifth-year senior has had an injury plagued career. Stress fractures and high ankle sprains have kept him out of 16 games the last three seasons. Plus, with a stable worthy of Churchill Downs, it's tough to carve out your own identity when there are so many talented backs.

But this year, Stewart is healthy and making his mark. He's rushed the ball 32 times for 119 yards. Five of his six touchdowns have come from 2 yards or less. He averages 3.7 yards per carry. But more importantly, when it counts on the goal line or in critical third- and -fourth down situations, Stewart averages 4.1 yards per carry. He's converted a touchdown or first down 11-of-13 times in running situations that call for 2 yards or less. More importantly, he's never lost any yards on a carry. He's gained 119 and netted 119.

"I think there is a mentality you have to have," said fullback Ryan Hewitt -- Stanford's other short-yardage bulldozer. "You have to tell yourself you're going to get it no matter what. You just can't be denied. Jeremy's a good back. He's got great leverage, great leg drive and he's just a powerful runner."

Stepfan Taylor is the workhorse, averaging almost 17 carries per game. Stewart averages four carries per game. But he understands what his role is and accepts it enthusiastically.

"Everybody wants to be the go-to guy," Stewart said. "Every back wants to get the ball 30 times a game. But right now, that's just not happening. So I try to go in with a positive mindset and make the most of whatever I get."

Shaw said he takes whatever steps he can to keep Stewart involved in the game, so he's not completely ice the first time he steps on the field. He's active in the special teams game and he'll get the occasional first down carry just to get his feet wet.

"You want to keep him in the flow," Shaw said. "He knows when he goes out there and gets the rock and runs the ball on short yardage and goal line, that's his specialty. He's got a great body lean and leg drive and has been impressive all year."

Take last week's USC game as a prime example of the kind of faith Shaw & Co. puts in Stewart. Trailing 20-17 in the third quarter, Shaw called Stewart's number on fourth-and-1 at the USC four. Stewart delivered two yards. And on the next play Andrew Luck scored from 2 yards out to help Stanford regain the lead.

Then on Stanford's first possession of overtime, Stewart got the call three straight times.

  • Third-and-1 at the USC 4, Stewart rush for 2 yards.
  • First-and-goal at the USC 2, Stewart rush for 1 yard.
  • Second-and-goal at the USC 1, Stewart rush for 1 yard, touchdown.

"I've never thought of it as being mentally challenging," Stewart said. "Every time I get the chance to make something happen, I just try to go out and make the plays. I think it's really the same mental approach as any other running back. You make your reads and just go."

Cardinal make it look oh, so easy

October, 23, 2011

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- It shouldn’t be this easy. It just shouldn’t.

It shouldn’t be easy to rush for 446 yards. Not against a top 20 rush defense. It shouldn’t be easy to drop 65 points on anybody, let alone a Top 25 team. With the best quarterback in the country -- who passed up $xx,xxx,xxx amount of dollars to come back for another year -- it should be more than just him handing off 33 times.

“That’s our mentality,” said head coach David Shaw. “We want to by physical. We’re going to play the style of football that we love to play.”

Yeah, that sounds great. But it should be harder than this. Shouldn’t it?

“Just get the ball, follow your aiming point and follow the holes,” said running back Stepfan Taylor. “We just have to run, make somebody miss and go and score.”

[+] EnlargeStepfan Taylor
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images Stepfan Taylor and three other Cardinal running backs set a school rushing record by amassing 446 yards.
Oh. That’s all?

Saturday night, the No. 8 Cardinal certainly made it look easy in their 65-21 win over No. 25 Washington at Stanford Stadium.

Taylor headlined a rushing attack that featured five touchdowns from four different running backs while amassing a school record 446 yards on the ground -- eclipsing the mark of 439 yards set in 1981 against Oregon State.

The record-setting run was a 38-yard touchdown from Anthony Wilkerson with a 1 minute, 25 seconds left in the game. It seemed that for Shaw, that was the only hard part of the game.

“To be perfectly honest, I was not trying to get (the record),” Shaw said. “That last run by Wilkerson, I was hoping we’d get the first down and then we’d kill the clock. We weren’t trying to set records or score more points. I wanted to end the game … but you can’t tell a runner not to run.”

Taylor led the way with 138 yards and a touchdown, followed by Tyler Gaffney (117 yards, one touchdown) and Wilkerson (93 yards, two touchdowns). Jeremy Stewart also provided his usual pop in short-yardage situations, scoring the game’s first points on a 2-yard touchdown run.

“We all got our opportunities and we made the most of it,” Stewart said. “… It was amazing. The line went out and did a great job. It was good for everyone that was involved.”

Speaking of the line…

“The last time I saw a line play like that was at USC in 2005,” said Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, who was a member of the Trojan coaching staff at the time. “ ... We’d defend a play, defend a play and the one time we got out of a gap -- bang. And it wasn’t 12 yards, it was 50. I tip my hat to them.”

This was supposed to be a showcase of quarterbacks. Andrew Luck entered the game with his usual hype, but Washington's Keith Price was the up-and-comer who was turning heads in the conference and on a national stage. Price finished 23-of-36 for 247 yards, a touchdown and an interception -- a 62-yard pick-six by safety Michael Thomas.

On the other side, Luck was his usual efficient self -- finishing 16-of-21 for 169 yards and two touchdowns.

Both played their own roles in their own ways. But Saturday night, Luck took a backseat.

“We’re more than just Andrew Luck,” Shaw said. “We’ve got a good team. We’ve got a physical team. If a team wants to take away the pass by playing deep safeties, we can run the ball. We’ve got backs after backs. We’re physical up front. We can play both styles of football. Andrew has thrown for over 300 a couple times this year. Now we rush for a bunch tonight. The fact that we can be a complete offense is what we strive for.”

And Washington -- while going blow for blow with the Cardinal early -- had no answers for Stanford’s offense, which scored on its first eight drives and on 11-of-12 possessions.

“It was a pretty good feeling,” said Gaffney, who set a career high with his 117 yards. “You gotta think they were preparing for our Heisman quarterback and we used the run against them.”

Or maybe they were preparing for the tight ends -- that amazing trio that has run circles around opposing secondaries this season.

“That’s a good possibility,” Shaw said. “I can’t speak for Washington. When we have (the three) on the field at the same time, those are three guys who have made a lot of big plays this year. Maybe they were protecting that. I don’t know.”

What he does know is that Washington’s safeties weren’t stepping up. Even when the Cardinal rushed for 128 yards in the first quarter (Washington was allowing just 97 yards per game), or when Taylor broke loose on a 70-yard run in the second quarter.

“Every game we want to run the ball -- ever since I’ve been here at Stanford, that’s what we hang our hat on and try to accomplish,” Luck said. “It was working early. Don’t fix it unless it’s broken, right? And it kept on working.”

This was supposed to be the first team that was going to challenge the Cardinal. The biggest criticism of Stanford was that the Cardinal have played a schedule worthy of a new Hostess product. And yet against their "stiffest" opposition of the season, they averaged 10.1 yards per carry, set a season high in scoring and total offense (615 yards). They had just one three-and-out series the entire game and went a perfect 7-for-7 in the red zone (making them 38-of-38 on the season).

For a team that doesn’t care about making statements, they certainly made one tonight.

And they made it look easy.

Halftime: Stanford 38, Washington 14

October, 22, 2011
PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Thoughts from the first half at Stanford Stadium.

Stat of the half: It's got to be rushing yards. The teams have combined for 382 yards on the ground (247 from Stanford, 135 from Washington). Stanford's rushing defense came into the game ranked second in the country, yielding just 59.5 yards per game. Washington's rush defense, No. 17 nationally, allowed just 97 yards per game.

Best player: Take your pick between Stepfan Taylor (130 yards, eight carries, one touchdown) and Chris Polk (143 yards, 10 carries, two touchdowns), but give the edge to Taylor since his team is winning.

Best call: On Stanford's first drive, second-and-11 at the Washington 14, the Cardinal loaded their three tight ends on one side of the field. Andrew Luck took the snap and sprinted toward the tight end side, then threw back across the grain to Taylor, who was tackled at the 2-yard line. Jeremy Stewart scored on the next play. Really well-designed play.

Turning point: At the rate these offenses were moving, Michael Thomas' pick-six of 62 yards in the closing minutes of the first half might have knocked all the wind out of Washington's sails.

1Q: Stanford 10, Washington 7

October, 22, 2011
PALO ALTO, Calif -- Stanford coach David Shaw said he wanted to get wide receiver Chris Owusu involved in the offense early, and that's exactly what he did.

The wide receiver took an end-around on the first play of the game for 45 yards, which set up Jeremy Stewart's 2-yard run. A 39-yard Jordan Williamson field goal put the Cardinal up 10-0 before Chris Polk and Washington struck back.

Polk broke off a 46-yard touchdown run -- making it the first points the Cardinal have given up in the first quarter this season.

Credit to Polk for making the Cardinal players miss. But Stanford's tackling has been pretty sloppy in the first quarter. Two third-downs were converted on missed tackles.

Washington's defense hasn't been much better. It gives up an average of 97 rushing yards per game and the Cardinal have already rushed for 128 yards. Stanford already has 198 yards of offense to Washington's 88.
Walk-on guys always play with a chip on their shoulders -- but a lot of them lose it after they earn their scholarship. Not Griff Whalen. He plays the game like he eternally has something to prove.

Even when the senior was awarded his scholarship following his sophomore year in 2009, he continued to play with the attitude that he could be cut at any moment.

"It meant a lot and I felt like I had to work harder than the guys who were already on scholarship," said the wide receiver from Sylvania, Ohio. "But I don't think getting it changed me. I think I would play this way regardless of that."

Whalen, generously listed at 6-foor-1, 193 pounds, is the type of player a team needs to take the next step into national prominence. Not for what he does on the stat book. But for all the things he does that aren't measurable.

[+] EnlargeGriff Whalen
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireFormer walk-on Griff Whalen had a career game against Colorado on Saturday.
A quarterback and defensive back coming out of high school, Whalen played position carousal when he arrived on the The Farm. Also a standout high school lacrosse player, he was tried out at quarterback, running back and defensive back. But he found his calling as a wide receiver.

"I think we knew it was a perfect fit for him because of how smooth he is," said defensive back Johnson Bademosi, who has had to cover Whalen more than a couple of times in practice. "He's a hard worker. He runs great routes ... he's a competitor. I think he's comparable to some of the best receivers in the conference."

Whalen's not the fastest guy on the team. He's not the biggest. But he'll do everything asked of him and more. He'll block downfield and play faster than his scouting report indicates. "Steady Eddie" as coach David Shaw likes to call him. He'll sacrifice his body for the betterment of the team. He appreciates the position he's been put in and will be damned if he's going to let his coaches or his teammates down.

That's how you earn playing time as a walk-on true freshman.

"A lot of walk-ons that come here are highly recruited by the Ivys and would have had a chance to be really, really good in the Ivys," said Shaw. "Griff is one of those guys. His highlight tape was phenomenal coming out of high school. But the size-speed deal, he wasn't as big or as fast as other guys getting a scholarship ... when he got on the field, he showed what we'd seen on film that he had the ability to play."

Saturday against Colorado, Whalen had the breakout game of his career -- catching four balls for 92 yards and a touchdown. He made a fantastic grab on a third-and-26 that went for 27-yards down to the Colorado 1-yard line. The next play, Jeremy Stewart scored. Wouldn't have happened without Whalen.

His first touchdown of the season was a 30-yard pass. He cut inside on a slant pattern and Andrew Luck delivered a 15-yard strike. Whalen then juked two defenders and dragged a third into the end zone, taking it the remaining 15 yards on his own.

"I never thought he was too small," Shaw said. "Crazy thing about the time I spent in the NFL, you see some guys like Calvin Johnson and think 'oh my gosh.' Then turn around and right next to him is Wes Welker. At the Pro Bowl. Good is good. There are guys that are diminutive in size that can make good plays ... size is what it is. But it's all about the production on the field."

That production isn't always measurable. Whalen is a fantastic blocker. A lot of routes call for him to be a decoy to pull a safety or defensive back out of an area where a tight end awaits.

"We talk about it all the time," Whalen said. "You can't play here if you can't play without the ball. That's something I worked hard on in the offseason. We all take a lot of pride in playing without the ball and blocking downfield."

As far as the statistical results go, Whalen has upped his game in the past two weeks. In the first three games, Luck targeted Whalen 12 times, but he had just six catches. In the past two games, Whalen has been targeted eight times and has seven catches.

Luck, who has been roommates with Whalen the last three years, said an off-the-field relationship has nothing to do with on-field chemistry.

"When you leave the building, sometimes you don't want to talk [about football]," Luck said. "I don't want to be cheesy and say it makes all the difference, because I don't think it really does ... I don't know if there is any special thing going on.

"I just have to listen to him more than anybody else."

Considering the way Luck distributes the ball -- 44 percent to wide receivers, 31 percent to tight ends and 24 percent to backs ( 1 percent undefined) -- Whalen knows there aren't going to be a ton of opportunities to make plays.

"We're fortunate that our whole team gets along really well and no one is jealous," Whalen said. "We're all pretty selfless and we do whatever it takes to win. You never know how many touches you're going to get per game. And when you do, you have to make the most of whatever you get."

Stanford all attitude in victory

October, 9, 2011

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Considering the score and considering the field position, there really wasn’t much need for Stanford to go for it on fourth-and-2 at the Colorado 13. The Cardinal were up by 20 coming out of the locker room and were more than in control on their opening drive of the second half. A field goal would have made it a three-possession game against a team that was hardly moving the ball.

But in David Shaw’s eyes, a field goal wasn’t enough. It wasn’t going to make the point that the Stanford head coach wanted to make. It would have been a comma. He wanted an exclamation point.

“Attitude. Attitude. Our attitude is that if it’s close, with the line that we have, with the fullbacks we have, with the tight ends we have, with the backs that we have we should pick up anything that’s less than fourth-and-3,” Shaw said. “We should pick it up. We don’t bat an eyelash. We don’t think about it. We don’t even talk about it on the headset. We just get the next call ready. That’s the kind of mentality we need to have up front in order for us to play games the way we want to play them.”

The Cardinal exerted their will -- and their attitude -- on Colorado in a 48-7 win at Stanford Stadium. No. 7 Stanford (5-0, 3-0) has won nine straight games at home while extending the nation’s longest winning streak to 13.

For all the funky formations and misdirection motions on offense; for all the exotic looks and blitz packages on defense; at its core, Stanford is very simplistic in its approach to the game: smash-mouth. Hit first, ask questions during film.

“Everything starts with being physical,” said co-defensive coordinator Jason Tarver. “We start with three things; alignment, angle departure and vision progression. We get aligned right, we go in the angle we’re supposed to, we look where we’re supposed to look and we hit whatever is on those lines.”

It's an attitude thing.

[+] EnlargeTyler Gaffney
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireStanford is hoping that Tyler Gaffney can return to his 2011 form, where he averaged 6.1 yards per carry.
From the opening kickoff, the Cardinal were in a hole but dug themselves out. Jeremy Stewart fumbled the kickoff and Colorado recovered at the Stanford 36. Suddenly the defense found itself on the field sooner than expected.

“When there is a sudden change, we don’t see it as a momentum swing, we see it as an opportunity,” said safety Michael Thomas, who nabbed Stanford’s first interception of the season later in the game. “Opportunity is knocking and it was time for us stand up.”

And they did, yielding to their own 12 before forcing Colorado into field goal formation. Linebacker Max Bergen came plowing through the line untouched, blocked the kick, picked up the one-hopper and returned it 75 yards for the game’s opening score. The Cardinal are yet to trail a game this season.

The Cardinal continued to mix up their looks on offense. They ran the no-huddle for the second-straight week, motioned tight ends in and out and piled on 553 yards of total offense -- their second highest total of the season (567 at Arizona).

“We want the [opposing] defense to move,” Shaw said. “We want them to move and communicate. We try to put them at a disadvantage to a certain degree … we’ve got personnel that we can do those things. We’ve got three tight ends that are NFL tight ends that are athletic and can run all kinds of routes and we can flex them out and then we can bring them back in and pound the rock. We’ve got a guy like Ryan Hewitt that was recruited as tight end but playing fullback. We can flex him out and play like a tight end. The guys we have allow us to do the thing we do.”

And they’ve got quarterback Andrew Luck -- who turned in another sensational performance on 26-of-33 passing for 370 yards and three touchdowns. The lone stain on his stat sheet was an interception off the hands of wide receiver Chris Owusu that fell right into the hands of Colorado defensive back Terrel Smith.

Luck was liberal with the football, connecting with 10 different receivers. Hewitt had touchdown catches of 1- and 10 yards and receiver Griff Whalen added four catches for 92 yards and a score.

“Luck’s the best quarterback, no doubt,” said Colorado head coach Jon Embree. “He’s got a good enough arm that he can throw the ball down the field without putting a lot of air on it. Not a lot of kids at college can do that like that. Like I said, he runs their offense to a tee.”

Stanford's running game started slowly, netting just 19 yards on eight carries in the first quarter. That was to be expected, Shaw said.

“We knew it was going to be tough sledding early on,” Shaw said. “We know a lot of games it’s going to be like that running the ball because we will put a lot of bodies in the box and we will cram it in there. We’re going to run the ball between the tackles a whole lot. And we do it early in games to establish who we are.”

It’s an attitude thing.

Eventually, those 1- and 2-yard runs gave way to bursts of 21 and 18 yards. Tyler Gaffney led all Stanford rushers with 61 yards on nine carries. He rushed for a score, as did Stepfan Taylor (13-58) and Stewart (4-12). The Cardinal finished with 161 rushing yards, averaging 4.6 per carry.

Colorado, meanwhile, struggled on the ground, as teams tend to do against Stanford. Through three quarters, it had just 38 yards on 19 carries. The Buffs (1-5, 0-2) totaled 264 yards. A huge chunk came on a 76-yard screen pass to Rodney Stewart. Safety Devon Carrington sniffed out the play and was in position, but failed to make the tackle.

“We need to make sure we put our face on guys and not lunge and dive,” Shaw said. “… there is no credit for almost making a play.”

It’s an attitude thing.

Still, Stanford’s players were dissatisfied with their effort.

“We need to pick it up on the physical end,” said Bergen.

“I think we need to improve. It wasn’t good enough,” Luck said.

“When we look at the film, we’ll see some plays we left out there,” said Thomas.

Shaw gave a devilish smile when informed none of his players were satisfied with the 41-point victory.

“They better have said that,” Shaw said. “It’s the truth. We can’t let the scoreboard dictate our feeling about how we played. If we can play better, we should know it and we should play better.”

It’s an attitude thing.



Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12