Power In Numbers: Stanford Replaces Taylor With Depth
I wrote last week pondering which receivers will be catching the ball for the Stanford Cardinal. The looming question for its backfield is the opposite — who won’t be running the ball?
After Stephan Taylor epitomized the meaning of an every-down back, Stanford has found a way to replace him with a stable of backs. The team would be foolish to look for “another Taylor.” Running backs like that don’t grow on the recruiting tree (except for University of Alabama’s).
Offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren mentioned that as many six of his running backs could carry the ball. He is looking for role players. Returning from minor league baseball, Tyler Gaffney will take a leadership role. Barry J. Sanders, Anthony Wilkerson and Ricky Seale all should get carries. The other two that are on the outside looking in are Redmount Wright and Jackson Cummings.
Gaffney, the most dynamic, was a shifty, quick back that broke arm tackles before trying baseball. He does not run like he looks at 6-foot-1 and 221 pounds. With more size and experience than the other backs, the senior from San Diego will get the most carries, particularly between the tackles. Expect him to shake off the rust from his time pursuing baseball and lead this crew.
Sanders comes with hype and has shown he can break ankles at the high school level, but his redshirt year was a college-level course in ankle-breaking. Sanders' carries should be fun to watch. Wilkerson ran well downhill at the Rose Bowl, but is better known for outside running. Seale, like Sanders, thrives in a zone scheme, making hard cuts upfield. Kelsey Young, a wide receiver last year, could play the hybrid role and jump into the backfield. He’s already received reps there. Like the rest, he will get a chance to move all over the field, provide a change of pace, and use open space to rack up yardage.
So they have a No. 1(ish) guy and four change of pace/outside runners. But who will run it up the middle? Gaffney, who has incredible leaping ability, could do some offensive line jumping, but what is more likely is a combination of Jeremy Stewart and Wright, last year’s short-yardage back. Wright is a big bruiser. Stewart is a smaller runner that tiptoes behind the massive Stanford line. Short-yardage rushing was a weakness last year, but the combination looks to be more efficient.
Oh yeah, and there’s that guy, Kevin Hogan. He had more rushing yards last year than any of these guys. He’s an efficient runner with 4.8 yards per carry. He is a mobile quarterback, though not a speedy one. I expect he will double his 263 yards from last season.
The number of names in the conversation is laughable, and yet coach Bloomgren seems to think most or all of them will get carries. Diversifying isn’t quite as easy as the give-it-to-Taylor game plan. It may make it harder to game plan against Stanford by giving the defenses more to worry about.
Last year, Stanford’s run game could be summed up in one word: Taylor. This year’s word: depth.