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Thursday, September 15, 2011
Running back depth paying off for Cardinal

By Kevin Gemmell

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- The longest Stanford run this season belongs to a fullback. A fantastic-bulldozing-straight-arm-what-the-heck-am-I-still-doing-on-my-feet-dash by fullback Geoff Meinken that went for 40 yards last week against Duke.

Running back Stepfan Taylor doesn't have a problem with that. Well, not really.

"It doesn't bother me. It bothers me a little. Sort of. But not really," flip-flopped Taylor with a big smile. "I think it bothers me more than I don't have one of those yet. Running backs are the guys that always want the big play."

Taylor is the No. 1 guy. He has more than three-times as many carries as any other back -- of either the full or the running variety -- so it stands to reason that he should have double the yards. Through two games, Taylor has carried 32 times for 136 yards, a pair of touchdowns and an average of 4.2 per carry.

Those are good numbers for a team that is averaging 173 yards on the ground per game. But not nearly where Taylor wants them -- as an individual or as an offense.

"As a collective unit, we need to start faster and finish faster and not have any regrets coming in to watch film on Sundays," Taylor said. "We want to know that everyone has played to their expectation and I don't think we've had that game yet."

Could it be this Saturday, when Stanford travels to Arizona for the Pac-12 opener? Might be. Arizona is allowing running backs 4.3 yards per carry and 138.5 rushing yards per game, ranking 67th nationally.

But what's got coach David Shaw so excited is that it's not just Taylor. Running backs Tyler Gaffney and Jeremy Stewart have played very well in relief of Taylor. Stewart has five carries for 50 yards -- including a 30-yard touchdown run against Duke. Gaffney has already found the end zone twice, rushing for 28 yards on seven carries.

Taylor has the misfortune of facing the defenses when they are at their freshest. He hinted (playfully) that some of the other backs were the benefactors of his hard work early in the game.

"With the kind of offense we're running, we need to be able to pound it out first of all, and eventually we'll pop one," Taylor said. "Geoff and Jeremy got it last week."

But Taylor certainly did the leg work. He rushed for 59 of his 75 yards in the first quarter and didn't take any tackles for a loss. But the tempo of the game slowed and other backs were rotated in.

His immediate back-up, Anthony Wilkerson hasn't had the same success the other reserves have had. In two games, he has just 20 yards on 10 carries. But Shaw said his time will come.

"Sometimes it's just circumstantial," Shaw said. "Anthony came in and had a run early and they had the perfect defense called and it never got going. Then he had a draw play that busted out the backside. It's hard to say. We've got those four backs and I've told them all, any given time, each one could be the start of the game. You never know."