SEATTLE — You may have heard. Stanford junior running back Bryce Love might be the most dangerous player in America when the football is in his hands.
Any time he touches the ball, it’s almost like getting an instant first down. Really. He’s averaging 9.64 yards per carry this season. It’s one of the reasons why ESPN projects he’ll finish second in the Heisman Trophy race behind Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield.
There’s also something else the college football world may have picked up on this week. No. 9 Washington (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12) is the nation’s top defense and this isn’t the first time the Huskies have faced a unique offense or a dynamic player.
“He’s one of those guys. Really fast, strong, keeps his legs going at all times and he’s hard to tackle,” Huskies coach Chris Petersen said of Love. “Bounces off, runs through arm tackles. Really powerful. Obviously, he’s got really good vision.
“The way they put all those big offensive linemen and you’re not sure where the crease is going to be. He always finds it.”
Love, who is from North Carolina, was a four-star prospect who was the No. 6 all-purpose running back in the nation in 2015, according to Rivals.
His development was gradual. Love waited behind former Cardinal star running back Christian McCaffrey for two seasons.
Once McCaffrey left for the NFL, Stanford (6-3, 5-2) began transitioning to Love. He began his junior year by rushing for more than 147 yards in each of his first seven games.
Stanford’s past three games have only fortified his value.
He rushed for 147 yards and two touchdowns to put Oregon away. An injury held him out of a game at Oregon State that saw Stanford escape Corvallis with a 15-14 win.
Love showed his big-play ability last week on a 52-yard touchdown run but was limited to 69 yards in a 24-21 loss at Washington State.
“He’s the leading rusher in the nation,” Huskies defensive tackle Vita Vea said of Love, who leads all Football Bowl Subdivision rushers with 182 yards per game. “You can’t just get that out of nowhere. Obviously, the whole team puts in the effort. The O-line, grinding it out … Bryce Love, you know, he’s a hell of a player.
“Props to their O-line.”
Stanford’s most notable national claim is how its developed certain skill players. The immediate thought shifts to players like Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, McCaffrey and Green Bay Packers running back Ty Montgomery.
Stanford has also become a destination for offensive linemen with NFL aspirations. Cardinal offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren has overseen the line since he arrived in 2011.
Its one of the reasons why the Cardinal recruited two five-star offensive linemen last season including former Graham-Kapowsin star Foster Sarell.
The Cardinal, since the 2014 season, have signed a total of seven prospects who were rated either as four-or five-star linemen.
So it’s not enough for the Cardinal to have a home-run hitter like Love. They’ve also built and recruited highly-prized linemen to give him running room.
“We just have to be there for linebackers, D-line if they don’t make the play,” Huskies sophomore cornerback Myles Bryant said. “We just have to prevent the big plays since all big plays run through us. We have to stop that.”
Stopping Love will be a challenge but it is not impossible.
WSU showed it can be done when Love struggled to find space beyond his lone touchdown run.
There’s also the matter of what the Huskies’ defense has done against opponents. UW is sixth against the run and has held rushers to 2.58 yards per carry on 318 attempts.
Last season, the Huskies were 28th against the run and the result was McCaffrey having one of the worst games of the season. He ran 12 times for just 48 yards and the Huskies came away with a 44-6 win.
“Playing with great block leverage. Being physical and not running around blocks,” Huskies defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said about how to stop Love. “Then, on the back end, whoever the defensive end is, its about playing and getting leverage.”