Forget about all the lateral tap dancing you see from a lot of college running backs.
Coastal Carolina’s Lorenzo Taliaferro will take the ball at Montana with every intention of ramming it down the Grizzlies’ throat. Based on his résumé playing in a zone read option scheme, UM has every reason to be leery heading into Saturday’s FCS playoff game at 12:05 p.m. inside Washington-Grizzly Stadium.
“He rarely un-squares his shoulders from the line of scrimmage,” Montana defensive tackle Alex Bienemann mused. “He’s always running straight downhill and he’s very patient, doing a good job with his blocks.
“He runs real low and he’s about 230 pounds, 6-foot-2. So he’s kind of like a Brandon Jacobs-esque type running back,” Bienemann added, referring to a New York Giants standout. “The main thing is he’s got an O-line that gives him just enough time to hit the hole hard. Then he challenges anybody to take him on head-to-head.”
Taliaferro, a Walter Payton Award candidate and the Big South Conference Offensive Player of the Year, has come on like gangbusters in his senior season. The junior college transfer battled injuries in 2012, then decided he better improve his work ethic in the offseason.
“I dropped a little weight and got into the film room,” he said. “I studied the playbook even more to just make sure I know every aspect of our offense.
“That helps a lot with our (spread) offense because you know where to be and you can have running success.”
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Lauded by Montana coach Mick Delaney as an NFL prospect, Taliaferro has piled up 1,572 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns. To put those numbers in perspective, Northern Arizona scatback Zach Bauman, a thorn in Montana’s side the past few seasons, finished with 1,456 yards and nine touchdowns in his senior campaign.
Taliaferro’s 6.3 yards-per-carry average is higher than any of the three most productive backs in the Big Sky Conference. Plus he’s a pass-catching threat with 19 receptions.
“What really makes him unique – you know there are plenty of talented running backs around and he’s certainly one of those – but he’s an incredibly hard worker,” CCU coach Joe Moglia said. “He’s a big strong physical guy.
“If we’re faking to Lorenzo (in the read option) you still think he has the ball because he’s running out his fake at top speed. If he’s running a pass route he’s running a route as if the ball is coming to him. If the ball is coming to him, he’s got very good hands. He’s going to catch it.”
Despite all of Taliaferro’s accolades, Bienemann says the Griz defense is genuinely looking forward to facing him on a frozen tundra. One reason why is his running style.
“Just speaking strictly for the D-line, and even more so for me and Tonga (Takai) on the inside, there’s been so many weeks where teams will try the run once or twice and then they’ll go into a three-step quick pass game, which in a way neutralizes me and Tonga,” Bienemann said. “I think we’re really excited to have some team try to run the ball straight at us. That’s what we’re best at handling. To have a team try to run the ball down our throats, I’m super excited.”
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To say Taliaferro and his teammates are excited to be playing in frigid conditions Saturday would be bending the truth. But the senior running back from Virginia insists he personally likes the scenario.
“I’ve played in snow in high school,” he said. “It’s definitely a different type of game but it’s actually my type of game. You know, running the ball a little more.
“I’m ready. We can’t worry about the weather. We have to be prepared for anything. We’re definitely going up there to win. Going into every game there’s always some type of obstacle you have to face, so it’s just another one.”
One reason Taliaferro is so successful is that defenses cannot afford to stack the line of scrimmage against the balanced Chanticleers. Coastal sophomore quarterback Alex Ross and senior wideout Matt Hazel, like Taliaferro, are first team all-Big South performers.
The man behind the Chanticleers’ offensive success is offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude. The former Central Connecticut State QB has
23 years of coaching experience, including two as offensive coordinator at Georgetown.
“He’s really smart, so he can turn a guy with less athletic ability into a star with this type of offense,” Taliaferro said.
Coastal’s senior running back says it’s important his offense match Montana’s physical style Saturday. He and his teammates are well aware of what’s in store with Montana’s crowd noise, but they’re not too worried because they’ve been through it all before.
“South Carolina was pretty loud,” Taliaferro said of a game two weeks ago that his team lost, 70-10, in front of 81,000 fans. “But that wasn’t as loud as Liberty. They had about 20,000 and they’re right there. It was like we couldn’t hear the cadence.
“I’m hearing how loud this is going to be so I’m kind of comparing this to the Liberty game when we couldn’t hear anything.”
The senior stressed that his team is coming to Missoula with one thing in mind: Victory. By the same token, there are some fringe benefits involved.
“I think one person on our team has been to Montana, so it’s going to be exciting,” he said. “You know to play in a different atmosphere. It’s definitely going to be good.”
QUICK KICKS: Six members of CCU’s offense were named first team all-conference, including three linemen ... Coastal cracked the top five of the FCS poll in early November.