Washington State fans know Robert Taylor primarily as a defensive player, but the Twitter world knows him as “Runitback Rob.”
The handle’s making more and more sense.
The Pac-12 Conference announced Taylor as its special teams player of the week Monday in honor of his 100-yard kickoff return at Arizona State, the Cougars’ first kick return for a touchdown in 13 years.
It was not only a pivotal play in WSU’s 37-32 win Saturday night, it proved the Cougars don’t put all their fast, elusive athletes on offense. It featured a spin move and a juke worthy of WSU tailbacks like James Williams and Jamal Morrow, and a burst of speed that seemed to catch the ASU coverage unit by surprise. At the time, Arizona State was ahead, 14-3.
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“That’s Runitback Rob,” Morrow said Monday at WSU’s weekly football news conference. “It was huge for us, a huge momentum shift, and something we really needed.”
Morrow took a seat among reporters and asked Taylor where he got his nickname. From a coach in high school, he replied.
Washington State (5-2, 4-0 in the Pac-12) is riding a five-game winning streak headed into Saturday’s game (7:45 p.m., ESPN2) at Oregon State (2-5, 1-3). The Cougars are favored by more than two touchdowns.
Taylor, who grew up in the Bay Area, transferred to WSU from City College of San Francisco this year, almost immediately earning a starting spot on defense and seizing the Cougars’ prime kickoff-return role for their third game — the start of their present win streak.
His impressive return in the second quarter last week reduced an 11-point deficit and sparked a run of 28 straight WSU points. It was the school’s first kick return for a score since Sammy Moore’s against Colorado in 2003 and its first 100-yarder since Anthony Prior’s in 1991. The only other Cougar on record to take one 100 yards was Bernard Jackson in 1971.
“He’s been on the verge of breaking one of those,” WSU coach Mike Leach said. “He’s been right there. It just hasn’t popped, but it was a really good run. And it was a key time of the game.”
Taylor, a junior, has used his quickness to recover three fumbles this season. Early in the year, he appeared headed for a cornerback role, but his solid play at the back end has allowed coaches to shuttle Shalom Luani between safety and nickelback to make better use of his run-support skills.
FALK MUST BE OK
Luke Falk appeared to have sustained an injury to his nonthrowing arm late in the ASU game, but he remained on the field. And Leach’s comments Monday suggest the quarterback is OK. He implied Falk wasn’t hurting as much as TV camera work may have indicated.
“Obviously they’re going to do all their close-ups or whatever,” Leach said. “Bottom line, get up and play the next play. We shouldn’t have been hit as much as we were.”
Falk’s 42-for-53 passing came despite seven sacks and numerous hits from pass-rushers.
“You go back and watch some of those hits, and you’re like, ‘Ooh, I don’t know how he got up from that one,’ ” Morrow said. “He’s a tough dude and he really puts the team on his back when we need him to.”
But even receiver Gabe Marks left open the possibility that Falk was working some angle for the good of the team.
“I think he’s got a really high pain tolerance,” Marks said. “Maybe he’s faking. He might do it for the cinematics of it. He’s really smart. He probably plays mind games with us, to get us to play harder if we see him hurt. I don’t know. He’s a smart guy. I don’t put a lot of things past him.”
LEACH SAYS HE’S PULLING FOR INDIANS
Leach, who is a big baseball fan, will be pulling for the Cleveland Indians against the Chicago Cubs in the World Series.
More accurately, he’ll be rooting against the Cubs.
“There are some teams, and the Cubs are one of them, where there are just too many Cubs fans,” he said. “For whatever reason. People like the way their uniforms look or something. Every yuppie with a BMW or some special attachment to his computer or some designer set of jeans or something like that, is a Cubs fans and refers to them as ‘My Cubbies.’ …
“As a result, I’m going against the whole wave of probably seven-eighths of America. I want the Indians. Me and the city of Cleveland.”