Stanford'soffensive linemen recently tabbed themselves the Tunnel Workers Union because,in the words of one Cardinal, they are "big guys making holes." TobyGerhart, the team's star running back, heard the moniker and thought of hisfather, Todd, a longtime high school football coach who uses the metaphor of atunnel to explain what distinguishes a great running back from a good one.
The tunnel, asTodd Gerhart describes it, is the narrow space "between two walls ofhumanity" where a back often finds himself after taking a handoff. "Alot of backs don't like to run down the tunnel," Todd says. "People areflying at you, and a safety or a linebacker is waiting. But if you get in thetunnel and make the right choice, the right cut, that's when you get the bigrun."
The big run is oneof Toby Gerhart's specialties. After dashing for 134 yards and three TDs inStanford's 24--16 win over UCLA last Saturday, Gerhart ranks fourth in thenation in rushing. The Cardinal (4--1, 3--0) is the surprise leader of thePac-10, riding an offense that's built around its 6'1", 235-poundsenior.
"He's strong,he's got good vision and his feet are quick," says UCLA linebacker ReggieCarter. "And if you don't get your body in front of him, you can't bringhim down. He's a complete back."
That's acompliment without a qualifier, which Gerhart doesn't receive often enough. Heis commonly referred to as a power back or, as UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel calledhim, "a load," both of which understate his athletic ability.
"As a whiterunning back you get stereotyped," Gerhart says. "When I tell people Iplay football, they say, 'Oh, you're a fullback.'" But Gerhart runs morelike Glyn Milburn—the shifty former Stanford great he passed to become fifth onthe school's alltime rushing list—than like former Cardinal bruisers TommyVardell and Brad Muster. During Stanford's Sept. 26 win over Washington, ToddGerhart heard a Huskies coach shout, "He's not fast enough to turn thecorner!" A few plays later Toby ripped off a 60-yard touchdown run.
"The bigquestion people have is about my top-end speed," says Gerhart. "I thinkI am pretty darn fast. When the NFL combine comes around, I will post a good[40-yard dash] time." Gerhart is confident in part because he has nevertrained for football year-round. He drops 10 to 15 pounds to play outfield onthe Cardinal baseball team, then puts the weight back on.
Facing a UCLAdefense that was ranked ninth in the country against the run, Stanford'soffensive line dominated, and the Cardinal confused the Bruins with its Giantpackage, which features a sixth lineman: one more tunnel worker openingholes.
"We've come along way," Gerhart says. "We were 1--11 my freshman season, and for along time the program has been down. But now we are turning thecorner."
Which is anotherway of saying that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
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A New No. 1
Only two weeks in, there's already a change at the topof the SI playoff poll. While Florida was idle, Mark Ingram (below) ran for 140yards and two touchdowns last Saturday as Alabama knocked off Kentucky 38--20and moved into the top spot in voting by 14 writers and editors from SI andSI.com. Below are the 16 teams that the panel believes most deserve to play ina postseason tournament for the national championship.
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5 Virginia Tech
15 Oklahoma St.
10 Ohio State
6 Boise State
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RUSH HOUR Gerhart had 134 yards and three TDs against a UCLA defense that ranked ninth nationally against the run.