What a rush: Ground game key for Harbaugh at Stanford

Oregon State defensive coordinator Mark Banker said Stanford didn’t have many running plays under Jim Harbaugh, but they repeatedly ran one play to near perfection.

I thought of the Packer Sweep or USC’s Student Body Right. Stanford must have turned this running play — Banker said it involved a pulling guard flattening a linebacker or safety and a fullback kicking out a defender on the edge — into a symbol of what can be accomplished when 11 people work in harmony.

You know, here it comes again. Try to stop it.

“They have such command of that play,” Banker said. “No matter what you do on defense, they just have such great familiarity with that play and such belief in it. Their players run it with great conviction.”

Pleased with this discovery, I mentioned it to Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti.

And Aliotti said his experience against Stanford was much different. He couldn’t pinpoint one running play in particular.

“I don’t know — they certainly had enough running plays,” he said. “(Harbaugh) ran zone plays – inside and outside. He ran stretch plays, he ran the power, he ran the lead, he ran the crack toss, the belly. I mean, he had plenty of runs. And those are just off the top of my head.”

Well, whatever the case, there is one thing on which all Pac-10 defensive coordinators can agree: Harbaugh, the former quarterback known for developing signal-callers, also has a thing for running backs.

In his four seasons at Stanford, the Cardinal ran on 58.9 percent of their offensive plays, ranking second behind Oregon (61.0) among Pac-10 teams since 2007.

Harbaugh hasn’t outlined what the Niners’ offense will look like. And even if wanted to broadcast such information, he couldn’t. An offense? He doesn’t even know who his quarterback will be.

In discussing the offense last month, however, he did mention that there are principles he believed in.

And Harbaugh clearly believed in running the ball at Stanford.

Here’s a look at what percentage of Pac-10 team’s offensive plays were runs over the past four seasons:

1. Oregon, 61.0 (2,376 runs/3,896 offensive plays)

2. Stanford, 58.9 (2,007/3,410)

3. Washington, 54.5 (1,827/3,351)

4. Cal, 54.5 (1,875/3,440)

5. USC, 53.5 (1,935/3,615)

6. UCLA, 52.6 (1,751/3,327)

7. Oregon State, 51.6 (1,852/3,591)

8. Arizona State, 50.1 (1,713/3,418)

9. Washington State, 47.5 (1,498/3,151)

10. Arizona, 46.3 (1,689/3,647)

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