Last year, Toby Gerhart ran all over the Ducks. In a season full of impressive performances, Gerhart saved his best for Oregon, trucking all over a team that just stomped on USC. Gerhart ran for 223 yards and three touchdowns, dashing the still flickering national title hopes of the Ducks.
Gerhart has departed, but his blockers (the offensive line and fullback Owen Marecic) have returned. Can Stepfan Taylor show that same ability? He might not be racking up the yards like Gerhart, but his head coach and quarterback are effusive in their praise of his talents.
[Coach Jim] Harbaugh would be comfortable giving Taylor the bulk of the carries if it came to that.
"He gets yards after contact," the Cardinal coach said. "He really hustles. There were a few plays he would block two guys."
[Quarterback Andrew] Luck was a little more effusive in his praise of Taylor.
"He's a great back," the redshirt sophomore quarterback said. "He does a lot of little things that you don't realize until you watch the game film. He doesn't say much but he works hard and he's dependable."
Taylor said he worked on his blocking technique this year so he could "keep (Luck) healthy."
Still, Taylor has a long way to keep up with Gerhart - against an okay Notre Dame defense, he put up a modest 108 yards on 3.86 yards per carry. He'll have to replicate those numbers to give Luck the time he needs to pick up apart Oregon's secondary, because if the Cardinal become one-dimensional, they're much easier to beat.