Arizona Wildcats senior safety Robert Golden didn’t hesitate when asked about the most physical running back he has faced.
“Toby Gerhart,” Golden said.
The former Stanford running back, now with the Minnesota Vikings, was the runner-up for 2009 Heisman Trophy. He was powerful and productive, perfectly fitting the blue-collar attitude brought to The Farm by coach Jim Harbaugh and continued by coach David Shaw.
In terms of power and toughness, this week’s opponent, Washington’s Chris Polk, might end up No. 2 on Golden’s list.
“Polk compares to Toby a lot, but I feel Polk has more speed,” Golden said.
Polk showed that speed last week with touchdown runs of 46 and 61 yards against Stanford. Let’s put it this way: Polk has eight runs of 20-plus yards this season. Arizona has only four.
Polk is fifth nationally in rushing with 124.57 yards per game, and he is averaging 5.85 yards per carry for a Washington offense that is scoring nearly 35 points per game.
Polk, a redshirt junior, has rushed for at least 100 yards in six of seven games this season and in 17 for his career. When he ran for 1,113 yards in 2009, Washington coaches estimated that more than 700 of those yards came after contact.
“He is as strong and physical of a back as we have in this league,” Arizona interim head coach Tim Kish said. “People bounce off him. We haven’t really seen a back like him this year.”
Arizona has seen plenty of other good backs, though, usually not with good results.
Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle had a combined 220 yards rushing and receiving, which is a career high for him.
Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor rushed for a career-high 153 yards.
Oregon’s LaMichael James rushed for a school record 288 yards.
Even Oregon State Jovan Stevenson, who was a third- or fourth-string back playing because of injuries to others, gained a career-best 99 yards on the ground against the Wildcats.
The Wildcats did stop UCLA’s powerful combination of Johnathan Franklin and Derrick Coleman last week, partly because of switching up its scheme to the run-stuffing double-eagle flex, and partly because the Bruins had to pass so much to try to overcome a big early deficit.
Arizona is expected to use the double-eagle flex on occasion — it’s a nice weapon to have and for opposing offensive coordinators to have to consider — but the Wildcats likely will be back more to their base against Washington, which has balance and multiple threats.
Polk (5-11, 222 pounds) hasn’t had much luck against Arizona in two previous meetings.
He hurt his shoulder in the 2009 game, finishing with season-low totals of nine carries for 34 yards. Last season, Polk rushed 14 times for 67 yards as the Huskies played had to play catch-up in a 44-14 Arizona win.
He’ll get another crack Saturday at Arizona
“He’s a really powerful back,” Golden said. “We’re going to have to get 11 guys to the football and make sure we get him down.”