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Stanford rides dominant rushing attack to win

Matthew DeFranks | Monday, December 2, 2013

PALO ALTO, Calif. – No. 25 Notre Dame traveled across the country to play No. 8 Stanford but its longest ride may have come on the Cardinal’s final drive.

On his 33rd attempt of the night, Stanford senior running back Tyler Gaffney thundered up the middle for 18 yards, carrying Irish defenders with him and sealing a 27-20 Stanford win over Notre Dame (8-4) on Saturday.

Gaffney toted the rock 33 times for 189 yards and a touchdown but Cardinal junior quarterback Kevin Hogan said Gaffney was simply preserving that final run.

“Yeah, I think he was just being deceptive,” Hogan said. “He was saving it up. But he’s our workhorse. We’re going to ride him ’til the end.”

As a team, Stanford (10-2) ran the ball 51 times for 261 yards compared to Notre Dame’s 64 rushing yards on 24 tries. The Cardinal improved to 31-2 under coach David Shaw when outrushing their opponent and to 18-4 when notching a 100-yard rusher.

A season ago, in a 20-13 overtime loss to Notre Dame, Stanford lost the rushing battle 150-147 despite Cardinal running back Stepfan Taylor’s 102 yards.

On Saturday, Stanford averaged 5.1 yards per carry, marking the sixth time this season they averaged at least five yards per carry.

“Notre Dame, they’re big, they’re strong, they’re physical,” Gaffney said. “We match up. That’s exactly how we play. That’s exactly what we do on offense. We took it to them and were fortunate enough to come up on top.

“When a team tries to impose that will on us and play our game, I think we have the upper hand.”

With Saturday’s performance, Gaffney topped the 100-yard plateau for the eighth time this season, the second-highest total in Stanford history.

All game long, Gaffney chipped away at the Irish defense, notching 17 runs of at least five yards but only five carries of 10 yards or longer. Ten of his 33 carries went for either a first down or a touchdown and he converted half of Stanford’s third downs.

“It was a great total team effort especially from the guys up front,” Hogan said. “You saw what Gaff does every time he gets the ball.”

Shaw said Gaffney’s performance could have been his best one in a Stanford uniform.

“This one was pretty special,” Shaw said. “He knows what it’s about. When we get a lead, we get into the fourth quarter, they know what’s coming. We know what’s coming.”

Stanford did not try to conceal its steady but effective play-calling. The Cardinal completed only one pass for two yards in the final period and ran the ball 14 times for 68 yards. Gaffney had nine fourth-quarter carries, including one on each of the final nine first downs of the game (excluding kneel downs).

For the game, Stanford ran the ball on 23 of 30 first downs and picked up 12 first downs on the ground.

Cardinal senior running back Anthony Wilkerson added 34 yards and a touchdown on five carries. Wilkerson scored on a 20-yard burst through the heart of the Irish defense, sprinting into the end zone nearly untouched.

In seven home games this season, Stanford has rushed for 1,529 yards (1,032 more than its opponents). By comparison, Notre Dame totaled 1,788 rushing yards in 12 regular-season games this year.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at [email protected]