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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Gearing up for Gerhart

    Any team that plays Stanford during the 2009 season has one thing in common — a headache from figuring out how to slow down running back Toby Gerhart. Despite what the Cardinal’s 4-2 record (3-1 Pacific 10 Conference) might indicate, no team has really figured out how to do that.

    Six games into his season, Gerhart ranks fourth in rushing yards per game nationally with 124.33 and is tied for third in the country with 10 touchdowns. The senior from Norco, Calif., is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate and commands every opposing team’s full attention.

    It’s been that way for a while. Arizona defensive end Ricky Elmore grew up in California and said Gerhart had the same bruising style during high school.

    “”He’s just a hard runner and he plays with a lot of heart,”” Elmore said. “”Anytime he gets the ball he won’t stop until he’s on the ground. He’ll fight for every yard he gets.””

    Other teams’ defenses might work even harder than usual when suiting up against Gerhart. This season, Gerhart is averaging 5.3 yards on each of his 140 carries. Listed at 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, Gerhart smashes straight into opposing defenders time after time to wear them down. He’s already carried the ball two-thirds as many times as last season with six games left to play. And there’s no sign that he’s slowing down.

    Gerhart has gained more than 100 yards rushing in four out of six games and scored at least two touchdowns in four contests this season. Even if the opposing team knows Gerhart is getting the ball, it’s still hard to stop him.

    “”He’s just such a talented running back. It’s not just his size. He’s a nice, unique runner and just the way he bounces off tacklers is impressive,”” said UA defensive coordinator Mark Stoops. “”Along with his moves and all that, I think it comes down to balance, and he just has an innate way of getting away from tacklers. He’s just lowering his shoulder and bouncing off of them.””

    But he can outrun defenders too. Even being a bowling ball of a running back, Gerhart is quick on his feet and hits openings as soon as they appear. There’s nothing fancy to his game; just straight-line, physical running.

    “”He is kind of a throwback player, but he possesses a strong running style. His ability to make people miss, I think, is overshadowed by his power,”” said UA head coach Mike Stoops. “”He’s very nifty and he has good vision and patience. That’s what makes any great running back, and he possesses all of those qualities.””

    The last thing the Wildcats want to see this Saturday at Arizona Stadium is Stanford’s No. 7 running down the field or celebrating in the endzone. Gerhart had that type of performance last season during a 24-23 Cardinal win in Palo Alto. He gained 116 yards on 24 carries — only once was he stopped for a loss — and one touchdown: the game-winning score with 25 seconds left.

    Gerhart was slowed by a shoulder injury but still carried the ball 24 times last season against Arizona. This year, a healthy Gerhart is the focal point of Stanford’s run-oriented offense as the Cardinal tries to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2001. A motivated Gerhart can be scary for a defensive player.

    “”To a certain extent (it’s scary), but God blessed us with talent. He puts everybody in a certain position for a reason,”” senior safety Cam Nelson said with a smile, “”and that’s why he created linebackers like Sterling (Lewis) and Vuna (Tuihalamaka) and Kel (Xavier Kelley), to slow him up before he gets to the (defensive backs).””

    But despite the humor and despite all the buzz surrounding Gerhart, the Wildcats know exactly what they’re in for against Stanford. It’s just a matter of whether they can stop it or not.

    “”It starts with form and knowing that he’s going to be coming downhill with a 15-yard head start and you’re going to have to tackle him low,”” said defensive end Brooks Reed. “”Hitting him high won’t do much, I remember from last year. It definitely takes gang tackling to slow him down. It’s going to be a challenge.””

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