Sports

This trio of Cardinal running backs complements each other

 

The power running game that has helped carry Stanford to national prominence has been on full display the past two weeks at USC and Oregon State. The 18th-ranked Cardinal collected 195 yards in the 41-31 upset of the sixth-ranked Trojans, and 325 in the 42-24 victory against the Beavers.

Operating behind a veteran offensive line, Christian McCaffrey, Barry Sanders and Remound Wright are finding their strides. McCaffrey slashed for 206 yards against Oregon State and Sanders added 97, including touchdowns runs of 65 and 11. Wright has powered for five scores on the season.

"Going into this year, all three of us knew each other's talents," Sanders said Tuesday. "We knew we could be really special as a collective group, especially if we all perform at a high level. I think a little piece of that showed against Oregon State. We love competing against each other and I think it's making all three of us better."

This is exactly what Cardinal coach David Shaw envisioned prior to the season. He hopes it will continue on Saturday night (7:30 p.m.) in the Pac-12 home opener against Arizona.

"It starts with the offensive line and our tight ends," Shaw said. "Both guys -- Dalton Schultz and Austin Hooper -- are doing a great job blocking. The guy that nobody talks about, Daniel Marx, a first-time starter, is having an outstanding year. He's an NFL prototypical fullback."

Here is Shaw's analysis of his three backs:

"What McCaffrey has been able to do the last couple of weeks, breaking so many tackles, making so many guys miss, getting so many yards after contact, is phenomenal.

"Remound Wright has had some outstanding runs. His last two touchdown runs (against Oregon State) were incredible. Stopped at the line of scrimmage, spun out of tackles, gets into the end zone.

"And Barry continues to find his way. I challenged Barry, and at the same time I made him a promise. I said, 'You show us special stuff and you'll continue to get increased carries.' And he's shown us his special ability and he's going to continue to get increased carries."

Sanders also scored on a 20-yard run against Central Florida.

"They're the things you can't coach and teach," said Shaw of Sanders' skills. "Barry is still growing as a football player. He has a lot of confidence right now and the guys have confidence in him. I'm proud of him and excited for him."

The 5-foot-9 Wright has been especially effective in short yardage and goal line situations.

"Remound has outstanding instincts for finding creases," said Shaw. "It has nothing to do with his height. He can get low and get underneath people and find the first down. When there's an opportunity to jump, he'll jump. He's a great decision-maker, he's got strong legs, and knows how to push the pocket."

Like any running back, Sanders would love to receive more carries, but has no complaints with how he is being used.

"I know what I can do and what the others can do," he said. "I think Coach has utilized us the best he can and we'll continue to try and make plays when we're out there."

Sanders' 11-yard score against the Beavers came late in the third quarter and put Stanford ahead, 35-17. He ran through two defenders.

"At that point, I told myself I've got to score, because I didn't know what other opportunities I would have," he said. "I made the cut and went for the goal line. It was kind of weird, because as soon as I hit the guys, I saw the goal line, and that's when I kind of got excited. So I was glad I was able to cross it."

His 65-yard touchdown run came early in the fourth quarter, when Sanders used a stiff arm and several nice blocks to break loose down the sideline.

"It happened so fast," said Sanders. "The next thing you know, I was celebrating in the end zone with my teammates."

Shaw doesn't enjoy watching his running backs vault over would-be tacklers. However, both McCaffrey and Wright have done it effectively.

"I'm not for it," Shaw said. "He's (McCaffrey) done it four times and hasn't gotten hit by anybody. Not a big fan of it. But at the same time, it's hard to train instincts. And so far, his instincts have been very good to him and us."

Hogan's Heroics

Shaw said quarterback Kevin Hogan came out of the Oregon State game in good shape after spraining his ankle against USC. However, as was the case last week, he will be limited in practice this week.

"Kevin is playing probably the best he's played in his career," said Shaw. "The look in his eye on game day has been phenomenal and it's hard to get him out of the game."

Shaw considered replacing him late in the game against the Beavers with backups Keller Chryst or Ryan Burns, but decided against it.

"There's also a lot of things those guys (Oregon State) are doing on defense," Shaw said. "We don't have names for some of those fronts that they were playing. And to put a young quarterback in and diagnose what the front is and get us to the right run play is a bit much for those guys, because those are fronts we have never seen before. Kevin did a good job of seeing the looks and getting us into the right plays."

At some point, he wants Chryst and Burns to gain game experience.

"We've got programs for both those guys, but the programs are not going to supersede the situation," said Shaw. "I would love (for them to get) a significant number of snaps. I don't know if that's 20 or 40 or 15. As long as there is something on film to evaluate, and gosh, 'I got into the game and I got dirty'. At some point by the end of the year, I want to make sure that happens, but I'm not going to sacrifice any game to do it."

Front-line health

Shaw said defensive linemen Aziz Shittu and Brennan Scarlett, who left the Oregon State game with injuries, should be available for Arizona.

"We were very fortunate," he said. "Both guys are sore and will get some treatment this week, but we're anticipating both will play."

Shaw was pleased by the contributions of their backups.

"It's what you hope for," said Shaw. "You hope your third and fourth and fifth guys are ready if needed. Give Nate Lohn a lot of credit for coming back off injury and preparing and coming in and giving us a lot of good plays. Jordan Watkins coming in and taking a lot of reps. We had some long drives and guys were getting a little tired. They did an admirable job."

Anderson out

Palo Alto High grad Kevin Anderson will miss his second straight game, but Shaw expects him back for UCLA on Oct. 15. Joey Alfieri will start in his place.

"He played extremely well," Shaw said of Alfieri's performance against Oregon State. "You forget sometimes that this is his first year playing, because he's made contributions in every game. He's been decisive, he's been physical and he's been athletic. We're really excited about where he is right now."

Alfieri attended Jesuit High in Portland, Ore., the same school that produced former Cardinal fullback/linebacker Owen Marecic. Alfieri rushed for 1,700 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior and had several monster games, despite sustaining a season-ending injury in the eighth game.

"It's come up," said Shaw, when asked if he has considered using Alfieri on offense. "The last time it came up, I was in the airport in Oregon and this guy passing by me gave me this parting shot that I've got the kid playing out of position. What he did up there (in Oregon) as a running back was outstanding. We think he has a very bright future as an outside linebacker. If worse came to worse and we had injuries, we could put him back there (at running back). It think his natural skill set is on the defensive side."

Murphy to return

Shaw said offensive left tackle Kyle Murphy will start Saturday after leaving last week's game with an injury. David Bright and Brandon Fanaika played well in his absence. Bright took over at tackle and Fanaika became the 'Ogre' back.

"Fanaika did very well," Shaw said. "At some point he's going to be a starter at guard."

Bright and Fanaika used two jersey numbers: one with no name on the back, indicating they were eligible receivers.

"That way they don't have to report every play (with the officials)," said Shaw. "We've always used rotating jerseys with linemen playing those positons.

Conflict of schedule

Stanford does not play Utah or Arizona State this year due to a rotating schedule which allows it to play Cal, USC and UCLA every season.

"I think it's good and I think it's healthy, because the alternatives, I don't believe, are good," said Shaw. "The alternatives are not playing USC and UCLA every year. And that's something that hasn't been acceptable to any of the four schools and it's not acceptable to our administration and it's not acceptable to our alumni."

Quotable: "It's the wild west right now." - David Shaw on the competitiveness of the Pac-12 Conference.

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