With this year’s Rose Bowl being a battle of two teams with great running attacks, I would be remiss if I didn’t give my take on both. I’ve written my piece on the Wisconsin Badgers‘ running attack, so now it’s time for me to dive into the Stanford Cardinal‘s running game. What makes this running matchup interesting is that the Badgers are a running attack of many parts while the Cardinal have a running attack of one part: Stepfan Taylor.
Taylor has been the main man in the Cardinal backfield for the past few seasons and this year he was able to help his team to the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio. In his final season with the Cardinal, Taylor had his most productive season. He had the most carries, most yards, most receptions, most receiving yards and fell two short of having the most touchdowns in a season for his collegiate career. But it’s not just the numbers that Taylor put up, it’s also the performances that Taylor had in important and/or close games.
In the season opener against the San Jose St. Spartans, Taylor ran for over 100 yards and scored the first Cardinal touchdown of the season in a 20-17 win. Taylor had one his biggest games of the season a few weeks later in the Cardinal’s upset of the USC Trojans. Taylor ran for over 150 yards while running and catching touchdowns. His touchdown catch in the fourth quarter turned out to be the game-winner. A few weeks after that, the Cardinal had to survive a battle with the Arizona Wildcats that went into overtime. They won when Taylor dashed for a 21-yard touchdown on the Cardinal’s second offensive play of overtime. This was all in the first five games of the season, but it was only an appetizer for what Taylor would do in the Cardinal’s toughest stretch of games.
To end the season, the Cardinal had a three-week stretch that saw them play the Oregon St. Beavers, Oregon Ducks, and UCLA Bruins one after the other, with the games against the Ducks and Bruins being consecutive road games.
Against the Beavers, Taylor once again ran for over 100 yards and once again scored touchdowns rushing & receiving. His 40-yard touchdown catch on the final play of the third quarter brought the Cardinal to within one in what had been a very tough and very rough outing for the Cardinal as a team. The Cardinal went on to win 27-23.
Then came the big test: going to Eugene, Oregon and taking on the Ducks. Taylor was ready for the challenge. He didn’t score and he only caught one pass, but Taylor still ran for over 160 yards. That alone proved huge as it allowed the Cardinal to control the clock and hold the ball for around 15 minutes longer than the Ducks. The reason this was huge is that it kept the Ducks and their fast and furious offense off the field for more than half of the game. The Cardinal eventually pulled off the upset in overtime.
And finally against the Bruins, with the division title on the line, Taylor powered his team into the Pac 12 title game with another big rushing day and a few touchdowns, helping to build a big lead early that stuck. Taylor didn’t have as big a game the following week in a rematch with the Bruins for the conference title, but his contribution in helping his team win the conference was having his most catches in a game all season.
The Cardinal offense is certainly not a one-trick pony, but it will need a big game out of Taylor. The Badgers have played very well against teams at the caliber of the Cardinal during this season. Taylor will need to be a big part of his team’s offense for them to win this game. A big game doesn’t necessarily mean a ton of yardage and multiple touchdowns, Taylor’s season has shown that in a few instances. Having a big game as a running back could just mean averaging five yards per carry or gaining first downs in short yardage third down situations or just making a few scoring plays. For Taylor, he’s had both kinds of big games, so don’t be surprised if he’s a big contributor in some way in his final game with the Cardinal.