Stepfan Taylor key for Stanford

November 11, 2011, 8:22 pm
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Andrew Luck vs. LaMichael James is too delicious a story not to be told and retold and reframed ad nauseam, what with last years Heisman Trophy and this years game of the year west of the Mississippi.

But given the Law Of Unforeseen Consequences that we just made up, the key to Saturdays Stanford-Oregon game will not be James v. Luck, but James v. Taylor.

Stepfan Taylor. The Stanford running back. The one who never gets mentioned. The one who is seen -- typically 10 yards ahead of his pursuers -- more often than heard.

His is the non-sexy name, the one that is always conveniently omitted when inventory is taken on why Stanford is Stanford. Luck is the quarterback of the era, and Fleeners Army -- the assembly line of tight ends we have chosen to name after Coby Fleener, whose parents blessed him with a name for the ages -- is a wild card for defensive scheming. And the defense, even without linebacker Shayne Skov, is as good as any in the conference.

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But Taylor doesnt get mentioned because, well, because there is only so much RAM in our heads for crediting the No. 3 Cardinal for its inspired run, and we have spent so much of it in other areas that we tend to forget the following facts:

They run the ball 55 percent of the time, hardly the sign of a Mike Leach Texas Tech team.
Taylor is the prime running back, as well as an excellent tertiary threat out of the backfield.
His only blah games were in blowouts in which he was removed early (San Jose State, Duke Colorado), and even the other game in which he didnt average five yards per carry (USC) he was still 23 for 99 with two touchdowns.

In short, without Luck, Stanford may be in a world of hurt. But without Taylor, Stanford would be in at least a planetoid of hurt.

And with No. 6 Oregons offense being dictated so much by James, it seems the easiest thing in the world to link them rather than Luck and James. But narratives will be shoehorned where they do not fit easily, and while Luck has a Heisman Trophy candidacy to work on (well, a candidacy that others will be grading while he is tending to the more mundane issue of beating Oregon), Taylor may well have the most say of all.

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Without him, Luck would find more tackles and linebackers approaching him with malice aforethought. Without him, no defense would pay any attention the Stanford running game, and we say that will all due respect to Tyler Gaffney, Taylors backfield adjunct. Without Taylor, as much as Luck, or James, or Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas, this would not be a game between 4 and 6 for the right to contend for 2.

And because of that, we sense that because nobody is thinking this way, Stepfan Taylor will be the engine around which the rest of the game will churn.

If he has the game he routinely has, Stanford wins. If he doesnt, either because Oregons defense stops him, or the pace of the game keeps the ball out of Stanfords hands, or the score makes this a passers game, the argument is a much different one.

Either way, this will be Stepfan Taylors day. And nobody will see it coming because the stories all point in different directions.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for

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