STANFORD -- Stepfan Taylor won't play the numbers game. Just watch Stanford's superb tailback sidestep any statistic that casts him in the spotlight as if he were eluding would-be tacklers.
As the senior from Mansfield, Texas, closes in on the school's all-time career rushing record all he wants to talk about is improving.
"I wish I could get everything better," Taylor said this week. "I really couldn't just name one thing because I'm trying to improve the whole picture."
The No. 1 statistic on Taylor's mind is victories: nine and counting as eighth-ranked Stanford plays No. 17 UCLA in a Pac-12 showdown Saturday at the Rose Bowl.
The Cardinal (9-2, 7-1 Pac-12) can reach the conference championship next Friday with a victory over the South Division-winning Bruins (9-2, 6-2). In that scenario, Stanford would play host to UCLA with a potential Rose Bowl berth on the line.
Taylor, 21, has no time for reflection in such a big-game atmosphere.
"Everybody in the locker room made a big point to focus on this game," he said of the regular-season finale. "It all comes down to this and you don't want to let it slip away."
The 5-foot-11, 215-pound rusher has taken nothing for granted in his final collegiate season. Taylor recently became the first Cardinal back to gain at least 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons with a total of 1,222 yards so far this year. He is 177 yards short of Darrin Nelson's career mark of 4,169 yards. Taylor's challenge to break the mark grew this week when Stanford sports information department amended Nelson's career total to incorporate bowl-game statistics that previously were not included in its record books.
The ball carrier, though, had no idea when he surpassed 3,000 career yards early this season.
"We're so caught up in how he can get better," running backs coach Mike Sanford said.
Taylor is dogged in his pursuit to play better. Even after a heavy workload in a game he declines to wear a do-not-touch jersey in practice.
"And he is mad when he is taken out of a practice rep," Sanford added.
Despite the impressive resume Taylor hasn't been elevated to the level of great Cardinal backs such as Toby Gerhart, Tommy Vardell, Brad Muster and Nelson.
But UCLA coach Jim Mora won't be caught off guard by Taylor and Stanford's ground game.
"You'll see plays were all 11 guys are within eight or nine yards of each other," he told the Los Angeles Times. "They just come off with force. He's not afraid to stick his head in there and get the tough yards."
"They keep doing that and doing that, then all of a sudden someone on the defense tries to do something tricky, and there's a seam and he pops it," Mora added of Taylor.
Whereas Gerhart bullied his way through defenders, Taylor makes tacklers miss. He rarely takes a direct hit, forcing defenders to get glancing blows.
Coach David Shaw likes something else about Taylor's game that has gone unnoticed by many.
"He is without a doubt, the best pass protector in our conference -- one of the best ever," Shaw said. "That's hard for a lot of runners to do."
A staff filled with former NFL coaches has tried to preserve its star for a potential pro future by limiting his touches. But Taylor gets stronger the more he carries the ball and shows no signs of fatigue in the second half.
That's by design. As productive as he was the previous two years Taylor spent the offseason improving his balance and strength with the help of yoga exercises.
Taylor has been religious this season about stretching and rehabbing in order to arrive at each game with "fresh" legs.
Of course he is fibbing himself into believing it because he enters the UCLA game as banged up as any tailback this late in the season.
"I try not to feel pain," Taylor said. "If you don't feel it you're not going to play like you're hurt."
It's just one more aspect of football accounting he chooses to ignore.
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.