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Gerhart makes case for Heisman

Michael Bryan | Tuesday, December 1, 2009

STANFORD, Calif. — On his final play of the game, the Irish defense let Toby Gerhart into the end zone in the hopes of getting the ball back with a chance to force overtime. Most of the game, though, Gerhart had his way with the Notre Dame defenders even when they were going all out to stop him.

The Stanford running back rumbled for 205 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner, and even passed for a score on a crucial fourth-and-four play. While senior captain Kyle McCarthy said the Irish’s game plan was to focus on stopping the run, the Notre Dame defense was gashed repeatedly by the 235-pound Gerhart.

With the monstrous game against the Irish, Gerhart became the leading rusher in all of FBS, finishing the regular season with 1,736 yards. Gerhart’s 26 touchdowns also lead all running backs, and the senior averaged 5.6 yards per carry.

Gerhart’s second touchdown against Notre Dame put him into the record books, as he broke the Pac-10 single-season record for touchdowns in a season set by LenDale White in 2005 and Corey Dillon in 1996.

“Toby has said it all with the way he’s played,” Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. “He hasn’t talked about it, just gone out there week after week.”

Gerhart’s first touchdown came less than four minutes into the game. Following a Theo Riddick fumble, Gerhart ran the ball three straight times for the Cardinal, breaking a tackle and using a hand to stay balanced and get two extra yards before diving into the end zone.

“He’s a phenomenal player, one of the best I’ve ever been around,” Harbaugh said.

Every time it seemed Notre Dame might have a chance to pull away, Gerhart and the Cardinal offense would put together a long scoring drive to stay within a score. The senior’s 10-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, his second of the day, narrowed the Irish lead to 31-27.

“He’s a big physical runner,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said in a press release. “Everyone thinks he just runs north-south, but they run him to the edge a lot on a toss or a toss-sweep. When he gets to the edge, you’re in trouble.”

With Stanford finally driving with a chance to even up the game, Gerhart showed off his throwing ability in the fourth quarter. On a fourth-and-four play from the Notre Dame 18-yard-line, Gerhart took the pitch from quarterback Andrew Luck and completed a touchdown to wide receiver Ryan Whalen.

“We practice that once a week, I just threw up a prayer,” Gerhart said. “In practice [Whalen] is always wide open and in the game his back was turned and I just threw it out there and he made a great play.”

With his strong performances throughout the season and role in big wins over marquee opponents USC and Notre Dame, Gerhart seems to have played himself into the Heisman discussion.

“Toby is too humble to say anything about himself, but how can you not at least invite him,” Luck said. “He put his team on his back. He makes everyone in the locker room a better player. I think he deserves it.”