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Thursday, October 13, 2011
Stanford backs surging when needed

By Kevin Gemmell

Following the Colorado game, Stanford head coach David Shaw said he likes his team to have an attitude on offense -- specifically on short-yardage situations.

His quote was that Stanford should pick up anything less than 3 yards, regardless of the down. So let's take a look at how Stanford is doing running the ball in scenarios that require 2 yards or less.

So far, pretty good. The Cardinal have had 34 opportunities to run the ball on 2 yards or less and they average 3.4 yards per carry. They convert the first down or score a touchdown 73 percent of the time (25-of-34) and 10 of the 14 rushing touchdowns this season have come in short-yardage situations.

A few of those have been big runs -- like Anthony Wilkerson's 24-yard touchdown on fourth-and-1 against Arizona, or Jeremy Stewart's 30-yard score when only 1 yard was needed to keep the drive going against Duke.

Fullback Ryan Hewitt has been perfect when short yardage is needed. He's 6-for-6 on conversions of 2 yards or less and has converted twice on fourth down. As a team, the Cardinal are 8-for-8 on fourth down this season.

"Every good West Coast team ever has had one [a good fullback]," Shaw said. "We had high expectations and he's surpassed them as far as being a physical blocker and an outlet and in some cases as a primary. We've flexed him out and he's run routes outside and at tight end. He's been outstanding as a ball carrier on third-and-short."

Next up is Jeremy Stewart, who has converted 4 of 5 attempts. Twice he's found the end zone, once in the aforementioned long run against Duke and again last week against Colorado.

"Stewart has a knack for being inside the 2-yard line," Shaw said. "His leg drive is similar to Zack Crockett. He was a fullback for the entire game until he got inside the 5-yard and he was the best goal line back in the NFL. Jeremy Stewart has that knack -- he's a physical runner."

Starting running back Stepfan Taylor has also been good in short-yardage scenarios. He's converted 7 of 10 attempts and has four touchdowns. Two of his failures came in the first game of the season, when he gained no yards and lost a yard on the San Jose State 1-yard line. He bounced back later in the game to have a 1-yard touchdown.

Tyler Gaffney has been called upon more the past couple of weeks in short yardage. He's 3-for-4, including a 1-yard touchdown against Duke and a 1-yard touchdown against Colorado, which came on a fourth-and-goal.

Anthony Wilkerson has had the least amount of success, converting 3 of 7 attempts. But his 24-yard touchdown against Duke, a misdirection pitch, was one of the highlights of the season, and he shows his speed when he turns the corner.

Fullback Geoff Meinken and running back Ricky Seale have both converted on their one attempt.

Meinken's came against Colorado, and he provided one of the highlights of the season by knocking Douglas Rippy's helmet off as he plowed ahead.

"The nicknames have already started," Shaw joked of Meinken. "From John Riggins to Larry Csonka. I don't know if he's the one starting them or not. Every time we hand him the ball, something explosive happens. He's earned his playing time."