Sports

Stanford's rotation of four running backs makes it happen

 

The Stanford football coaching staff has been trying to find ways to get the ball into the hands of sophomore Christian McCaffrey since he began to make things happen as a freshman. Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan gave the ball to McCaffrey 29 times in last week's 41-31 upset win over USC. That resulted in 152 yards.

McCaffrey, though, is really just one of four players in the rotation of running backs and all of them have proven successful. The Cardinal (1-0 in the Pac-12, 2-1 overall) travels to Corvallis for a 7 p.m. contest against Oregon State (0-0, 2-1) on Friday night and all four runners should come into play depending on the situation.

McCaffrey leads Stanford with 239 rushing yards, Remound Wright has scored the most touchdowns (3), Barry Sanders leads the Cardinal with his 4.6 yards per carry average and Bryce Love leads the team with 156 receiving yards, or 52 yards per catch.

It's not quite the Fearsome Foursome or the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse, but it will do.

Stanford coach David Shaw enjoys having so much depth at the position. It means he can utilize everyone's strength to put the team into the best possible position to win.

"The guys are learning that the game has ebb and flow to it," Shaw said. "One week it might be your week to shine, on another it might be someone else. The bottom line, everyone comes and prepares and cheers on the guy who has a great game."

McCaffrey remains the cornerstone of the rushing attack; he's carried the ball 58 times this season while seven others have combined to carry it 59 times. Given the circumstance, Shaw is not afraid to throw any one in there, thus the three touchdown runs from Wright and a big play from Sanders that set up one of those scoring runs.

"We have a definite plan for him," Shaw said of Wright. "He plays physically. He could be a guard, tackle or tight end. I am inspired by his growth."

He's become the short-yardage specialist and scores even when everybody knows he's getting the ball.

"He has a lot of weight blocking for him up front," McCaffrey said. "But he's also big and strong and can jump."

Shaw had all but Sanders on the field for one play against the Trojans, a play that appeared to be an option.

"We just put that in that week," McCaffrey said. "All three of us in the same backfield, and Love has a lot of speed on the edge."

Would McCaffrey be willing to throw the ball?

"I was 3-for-3 in high school," he said. "Two of them were picks, but none of them hit the ground."

Stanford, which accumulated 471 offensive yards against USC, will need another big effort against the Beavers, who are coming off a 35-21 victory over San Jose State last weekend. Oregon State, playing its third home game, is 2-0 at home. The Cardinal owns a five-game winning streak over the Beavers but is 4-5 in its past nine games in Corvallis.

Stanford's elusive backfield foursome averages a combined 128.3 rushing yards and 135.7 receiving yards a game this season. Will the magic of the running back rotation remain successful?

"One can assume it would be tough, but when you practice with these guys and you form a bond with these guys and you realize they can help your team win, at the end of the day, it's all about winning and losing games for us," McCaffrey said. "We understand if a coach thinks a guy should be in and he'll help us win, we want to do it. It's definitely something we've come to grips with. We appreciate each other."

Hogan, another member of the backfield, sustained an ankle injury early in the second half of Saturday's somewhat surprising victory. He was to test the ankle during Thursday's practice before Shaw made a decision on the starting quarterback.

"I have no idea if he'll play or not, but I feel confident with the second- and third-string guys," McCaffrey said. "You always prepare like you're a starter."

Outside linebacker Joey Alfieri may also see a little more action after Peter Kalambayi got banged up last week. He responded against the Trojans by securing his first career sack and recorded six tackles, four solo. Kalambayi and Alfieri each have a pair of quarterback hurries, tying them for the team lead.

"I got a couple of series on defense," said Alfrieri, also a member of the kickoff coverage team. "The sack felt good. It was a big one for me."

It was likely a big one for the family, too. His father Phil Alfieri was a defensive end for Oregon State in the 80s. His mother, Kelly, also attended Oregon State and ran hurdles on the track and field team.

Alfrieri attended high school in Portland and expects a large contingent of family and friends at Reser Stadium.

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