Gaffney helps Stanford overcome slow start

Stanford's Tyler Gaffney, who played minor-league baseball and missed the 2012 season, rushed for 132 yards and scored twice against Army. AP Photo/Mike Groll

WEST POINT, N.Y. – Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney spent the 2012 season away from football. On Saturday afternoon, the Cardinal (2-0) needed each of the senior’s 20 carries to overcome Army 34-20.

“That one was a grinder, but we kept our calm. Coach emphasizes being even-keeled and we did that,” Gaffney said. “Army is a great team. We didn’t overlook them, but we definitely had to grind this one out.”

Gaffney, who played minor league baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ system last year, compiled 132 yards and one touchdown rushing and had a 23-yard receiving touchdown that was integral in helping Stanford overcome a slow start.

“It has been a surreal experience to be back out there with the guys,” Gaffney said. “I actually feel better coming back from baseball. I got to be in the second half of spring practice, as opposed to coming in at training camp. It [baseball] actually helped me get a little ahead of schedule.”

Stanford coach David Shaw liked what he saw out of Gaffney.

“Our backs are big, physical guys who drag people,” Shaw said. “You can tell that Gaffney has been lifting like a football player, not a baseball player. He left at 215 pounds and came back at 220. He is extremely strong right now, and he was big today.

“To be the between-the-tackles team that we want to be, we need guys like Gaffney,” Shaw added.

Down 6-0 early in the first quarter, Gaffney helped spark four consecutive scoring drives that lifted Stanford to a 20-13 halftime lead.

“We knew that six points weren’t going to win the game either way,” Gaffney said. “I told the team that we had to dig down and take care of our assignments. It was just a one missed assignment here, and a missed block there, that made us get behind. Once we got the feel for it, we didn’t look back.”

Following an Army fumble in the third quarter, Gaffney caught a 23-yard strike from quarterback Kevin Hogan to put the Cardinal ahead 27-13.

“Our running backs open up the pass game. We use them in play action, and that helps our offense,” Shaw said. “Gaffney loves football. He got a chance that a lot of us don’t get, and that’s a year away from the game. Now he plays with much more of appreciation for the game.”

Defensively, however, Stanford struggled defending Army’s triple-option offense.

“It’s like Oregon. [The triple-option] is like Chip Kelly’s offense. Whatever you are doing on defense, they’ll use that against you,” Shaw said. “There’s a reason why people ran this offense for 40 or 50 years. It is hard to defend, and it took our guys a half to adjust.”