STANFORD, Calif. (AP) -After watching Toby Gerhart play in a game for just the second time since becoming Stanford's coach, Jim Harbaugh had some lofty praise for his talented running back.
``He reminds me of John Riggins,'' Harbaugh said Tuesday. ``He has surprising speed to most people and very light feet. He has really good instincts, everything you'd want a back to be. We're really pleased for him that he was back healthy and running well. He's one of the better backs that I've been around.''
While the comparisons to the Hall of Famer Riggins may be premature, Gerhart's two performances for Harbaugh have been impressive. He had 12 carries for 140 yards and a touchdown against San Jose State in his only game before a knee injury ended his 2007 season.
Almost a full year later, he opened this season by running for 147 yards and two scores on 19 carries against Oregon State.
That's why his coach calls him one of the premier backs in the country.
``That's what I wanted to come out and do, pick up where I left off the year before against San Jose State,'' Gerhart said. ``Come out and not make it look like it was a fluke game. We just hopefully will keep building on that and keep rolling.''
Gerhart provides a level of physicality that has been lacking in recent years at Stanford, which has tried to beat teams with finesse instead of power. He weighs 232 pounds but is also athletic enough to make tacklers miss.
Those traits were the biggest reason why the Cardinal opened the season with a 36-28 victory over the Beavers and are full of confidence heading into Saturday's game at No. 15 Arizona State.
``He's big and he's physical and has great speed and is very deceptive and very tough,'' Sun Devils coach Dennis Erickson said. ``I was very impressed with how he's he played. He made a lot of things happen. He made some tough yardage and made a couple of big runs that were huge in that game. He was very, very impressive.''
Gerhart's biggest play of the opener came late in the first half when he ran the ball up the middle, broke away from two Oregon State linebackers and sprinted down the sideline for a 46-yard score, showing off both his strength and speed in one play.
``You miss a couple of guys and he bounces off them and goes for 40 more yards and makes you look great. It's good having him back,'' offensive lineman Ben Muth said. ``He's had a couple of great games. Hopefully he doesn't take another vacation this year. When he's out there he gives us another dimension for defenses to worry about.''
Gerhart is an impressive athlete who also stars on the baseball field. He hit a home run in Stanford's opener of the College World Series against Florida State and had a .400 on-base percentage for the season.
This week's game against the Sun Devils has special meaning for Gerhart, whose younger brother Garth is a backup center at Arizona State.
The entire Gerhart family will be at the game, including the triplet sisters Kelsey, Teagan and Whitley, who are high school seniors.
``I can only imagine how proud the parents must be, the kids are playing Pac-10 football,'' Harbaugh said. ``The neighbors must be getting very bored hearing all about the Gerhart kids.''
The three sisters have sewn together Stanford and Arizona State T-shirts to wear to the game with Cardinal colors on the back and Sun Devil on the front.
``I think they're sitting in Arizona State section so they have to be careful,'' Toby said.
There is a friendly rivalry between the two brothers that featured a bit of trash talking over the summer from Garth. That's provided a bit of extra motivation for Toby this week.
``I didn't realize we played them the second game of the season. He was talking about their schedule, saying 'We have two warmup games and then we get Georgia,''' Toby recalled. ``I asked him who do you guys open up with. He was like NAU and then you guys.''
Garth was much more subdued when the two talked Monday. Watching his brother's performance against Oregon State might have provided enough cause for concern.

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