Monday, December 5, 2011
Regular-season report card: Running backs
By Kevin Gemmell
The regular season is over, which means grades are due. Here's part six of the ongoing regular-season report card for Stanford.
Summary: Any time you have a 1,000 yard rusher -- while you are platooning between four different backs -- it's an amazing accomplishment. That's what Stepfan Taylor did, netting 1,153 yards, eight touchdowns and an average of 96.1 yards per game. Of all of Stanford's running backs, Taylor is by far the most complete. He runs with a low center of gravity, can make opponents miss, can run through them or simply drag them for extra yards. He's also an outstanding pass blocker. He was one of Andrew Luck's most reliable receivers, catching 22-of-24 passes thrown his way for 161 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He rarely took a negative play -- going on a stretch of four straight games without a lost yard.
What can be said about fullback Ryan Hewitt that hasn't been already? A blue-collar worker who craves contact. Like Taylor, he was fantastic in the receiving game -- hauling in 33-of-35 balls thrown his way for five touchdowns and 277 yards. He was great in short-yardage situations, never losing any ground on his 10 carries. His versatility allowed him to line up in the backfield, as a tight end and even split out wide or in the slot. Players like Hewitt are what makes Stanford what it is -- not flashy -- but consistently reliable.
As a unit, Stanford rushed for 207.9 yards per game.
Backups: For as much work as the rest of the running backs get, "backups" really isn't a fair term. We'll call them non-starters. Tyler Gaffney stepped in for 70 carries, 445 yards and seven touchdowns. More importantly, he had just -2 yards in negative plays in his 70 carries. He was great out of the Wildcat formation and added one receiving touchdown. Jeremy Stewart was a plow horse -- so reliable on short-yardage and goal-line situations. He finished with just 192 yards, but had eight touchdowns. Anthony Wilkerson showed flashes of his speed -- rushing for 283 yards and three touchdowns on 55 carries. But a few games into the season, Gaffney moved up on the depth chart to first man off the bench. Ricky Seale only saw six carries in reserve work this season.
Fullback Geoff Meinken -- wow -- is this guy fun to watch. From sensational stiff arms to helmet ejecting runs, Meinken puts the full-steam in fullback. He had two starts and ran for 88 yards on 10 carries. Lee Ward didn't register any rushing stats (one reception, 1 yard), but when Zach Ertz was injured and Hewitt became more of a hybrid tight end, Ward stepped in and blocked well.