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September 19, 2012

Running back review: USC

While Stanford's defensive front-seven rightfully garnered many of the headlines following the Cardinal's 21-14 win over USC on Saturday, Stanford's rushing attack also played a critical role in the win. Buoyed by an offensive line that grew stronger as the game progressed and the return of fullback Ryan Hewitt, Stepfan Taylor and co. gained a total of 202 total rushing yards

Cardinal Sports Report caught up with Stanford running backs coach Mike Sanford after a recent practice to discuss the team's success on the ground against the Trojans.

Cardinal Sports Report: Any plans to let Josh Nunes take some time at running back in the next few weeks?

Mike Sanford: (Laughing) No, I think Coach Shaw said it great. I think he said in the press conference (yesterday) that we believe the greatest quarterback runs are a lot of times not designed. I don't think No. 6 had gone vertically past the line of scrimmage in the first two games, and for him to do what he did in that game was outstanding. He's got a gift that you wouldn't be able to see just from watching him in practice. Even in the Duke and San Jose State games there were a couple free hitters that hit him and he bounced off of them. I don't know what it is, it kind of defies gravity and physics, but he's done a really good job with making a guy miss and he made a few guys miss in the game against USC.

CSR: What did Ryan Hewitt's return do for you guys? After watching the tape how would you quantify that?

MS: It's almost like it can only be quantified with his presence on the field and in the huddle and we noticed it right when the week started. He's one of our leaders. He's one of our vocal leaders offensively. I think when Shayne came back to the locker room for the Duke game there was a difference in the way our defense took the field and I think with Ryan, a similar vocal leader, a similar physical nasty player, I think everybody else feeds off his energy. From a technique and ball playing standpoint he knows he can play better. We're still getting him back 100 percent. He's 100 percent health wise but in terms of being back to playing ball and his fits in pass protection he will and he can get better and get back to where he was an even better than that.

CSR: With Hewitt running the ball, there was a pretty key 3rd and 1 conversion before Stepfan's touchdown run. As a tight end in high school, what's that adjustment been like for him to learn how to run the ball in short yardage situations?

MS: His role in that fits him perfectly because it's all about pure desire and will. On that particular play No. 7 for SC was unblocked in the hole and had a free shot at him through a wide-open gap. That shouldn't be a first down for us and he basically just wanted it and converted it and did such a good job of getting his pads down. The thing that's awesome is a lot of times we talk about fullbacks when you run the ball it's almost like you're blocking with the ball in your hands. He's so used to that, and Lee (Ward) and Pat (Skov), those guys are so used to blocking and moving people. It's the same thing, you just now have your ball in your hands and you don't have the ability to put your hands in blocking but now you just move them by driving your legs.

CSR: How special was Stepfan's performance?

MS: He was outstanding. And what he did against a defense that features some definite future NFL players, it was really encouraging to see him making plays out in space and making guys miss and getting extra yards. He was on a mission. But what that being said even talking to him after the game, I asked him how he played and he said, 'I feel like I left some plays out there on the field, I feel like I left some yards on the field.' He believes that there's more and we know there's more. He's going to stay hungry and he's not going to be satisfied.

CSR: Finally, with Anthony Wilkerson being a bit dinged up, how does that impact things? Anybody in particular you see stepping up and getting a few extra carries?

MS: We went into the first game of the season, second game of the season playing Ricky (Seale) and Remound (Wright) a little bit and those two guys are ready to play. They're dynamic backs and I think in that situation against USC given how close of a football game it was we just wanted to see Stepfan do what he does. He's the leader of the football team on offense, he and Sammy are, we were just going to let them ride it out. We want to see what those guys can do because they are special with the ball in their hands. We got a lot of work with them (yesterday) and it was really good work for them.




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