Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
Yes, he's a big chunk of meat, this Toby Gerhart -- 235 pounds of it to be exact. When he runs -- over and over, carry after carry, trample, trample, smash, smash -- you can sense the collective shoulders start to droop on the opposing defense. "This," those defenders seem to say, "isn't as much fun as my coach told me it would be."
But he's not Superman. He's not made of steel. After he ran for a Stanford school record 223 yards in a 51-42 win over then-No. 8 Oregon, his arms were covered in a road map of red streaks and scratches of varying depths. Gerhart absently pawed at the wounds as he talked. Maybe he was imagining the cooling relief of some cocoa butter or aloe vera? Or maybe he was thinking, "How futile these scratching and clawing defenders are! Now, where is my mutton and mead?"
"We take pride in being physical," Gerhart said. "That's our M.O."
Gerhart ranks second in the nation with 135.2 yards rushing per game. He's eclipsed 200 yards twice and he's been held under under 100 twice -- 82- and 96-yard afternoons. He's scored 16 touchdowns; only Navy's Ricky Dobbs has more. That's twice as many touchdowns as Alabama's Mark Ingram, the top running back on most Heisman Trophy lists.
"Toby's been our shining star all year," Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh said. "He's a man. He's a true warrior."
So let's just run against conventional thinking for a moment and ask two questions. 1. Are rushing yards and touchdowns important for a running back? 2. If so, why isn't Gerhart on every Heisman Trophy list?
"Toby Gerhart proved he's one of the top running backs in the country," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said.
Kelly volunteered that after reporters asked him if Stanford, which gained 505 yards against a previously stout Oregon defense, had provided a blueprint that other teams could copy to beat the Ducks. He scoffed at the question.
"If they can get Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck to transfer to their school, maybe they will," he said.
Gerhart, who's also a major league baseball prospect, was a good back last year. He rushed for 1,136 yards and 15 touchdowns. But he was a one-man show. The Cardinal ranked ninth in the Pac-10 in passing yards and were 91st in the nation in passing efficiency.
But redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Luck has given the Cardinal a passing attack, which means defenses can't gang up on Gerhart.
Defenses would much prefer to gang up on Gerhart.
"Usually the first guy doesn't take him down," Kelly said. "You've got to get more than one guy to him."
Gerhart will get his Heisman Trophy stage Saturday at USC. The Cardinal are back in the national rankings. They already are bowl eligible for the first time since 2001. Beating the Trojans could thrust the Cardinal into even the Rose Bowl hunt.
And if Gerhart hangs up big numbers on a USC defense that is still trying to regain its footing?
How could this 235-pound side of beef not become a leading Heisman Trophy candidate?