The first of several posts recapping Stanford's 40-12 win against Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
Good for Jeremy Stewart. The Stanford senior running back, who watched Stepfan Taylor, Anthony Wilkerson, and Tyler Gaffney reap the benefits of running behind one of the most dominant offensive lines in the country all season, finally got in on the act. He couldn't have chosen a bigger stage to deliver the biggest performance of his Stanford career.
Stewart, who injured his ankle in the season opener against Sacramento State and was sidelined for six games, entered Monday's Orange Bowl with 38 rushing yards on 13 attempts. He surpassed that total on his first carry against Virginia Tech, a 60-yard dash off left tackle on 1st and 10 midway through the first quarter that gave Stanford a 6-0 lead.
"I saw the daylight and my eyes got big," said Stewart, who knew he was going to get at least that one carry. "The only thing I was thinking was to get to the end zone as fast as you can."
The run, the longest of Stewart's career, was reminiscent of one Taylor broke in the first half of Stanford's loss at Oregon, and from the upper deck at Sun Life Stadium, I initially thought it was Stanford's workhorse back and leading rusher who scored. The run was also the first indication that Virginia Tech's defense, which limited Taylor to one yard on his first three carries, probably wasn't any match for the Cardinal offensive line. Cruelty 1, Hokies 0.
Stewart, who received a medical redshirt and has one season of eligibility remaining, wasn't done. His 26-yard burst in the second quarter set up Andrew Lucks' go-ahead touchdown pass to Zach Ertz. The Baton Rouge native finished with five carries for a career-high 99 yards.
"He really got us juiced up," said senior linebacker/fullback Owen Marecic, who had a one-yard touchdown run in the final game of his collegiate career.
Few could have predicted Stewart's breakout performance. He certainly didn't appear in any lists of "Players to Watch" in the pregame coverage leading up to the game, and he was a bit of a forgotten man in the Stanford backfield with the emergence of the freshman Wilkerson.
It was the Hokies, not the Cardinal, who were supposed to have the incredible running back depth, but the two-headed monster of Stewart and Taylor, who combined for 213 of Stanford's 247 rushing yards, stole the show from Virginia Tech's three-man rotation of Darren Evans, Ryan Williams and David Wilson. That Stanford was able to run the ball against Virginia Tech was hardly a surprise, but Stewart's big night was as unexpected as it was impressive.