After starting the season 1-2 in three consecutive games away from home followed by an unplanned quarterback switch and two impressive victories at home the Stanford Cardinal are back on the road to take on the Utah Utes in a battle of strength versus strength.
Stanford running back Bryce Love has been incredible this season. After an endless offseason of questions about how Stanford could ever hope to replace the great Christian McCaffrey, in five games Bryce Love has rushed for 1,088 yards on 98 touches for 8 touchdowns and 11.1 yards per carry. Love has the most rushing yards in the nation by far and the highest yards per carry. Despite only having 5 receiving yards and no return yardage Love is still third in the nation in all purpose yards.
Insert pun about Bryce Love’s name here*
Love may not be as dynamic as McCaffrey but once again Stanford has a player that the opposing team has to have some sort of answer for in order to win. Those answers seem to come in the form of the defense keeping their composure when Love inevitably breaks free for a big run and a score but keeping him contained the rest of the way and forcing the Stanford QB to beat you which is incredibly difficult to do. Alternatively, you can establish your own effective (though not nearly as explosive) running game against the Stanford defense, dominate time of possession and keep Bryce Love off the field for as long as you can.
Outside of a 75-yard run the USC Trojans defense was able to keep Love to under 100 yards the rest of the game while rushing for over 300 yards themselves. The San Diego State Aztecs were able to match Stanford’s rushing output and had better quarterback play in order to beat Stanford. Josh Rosen threw for almost five hundred yards and three touchdowns against Stanford. Rosen’s two interceptions and minimal help from his running game gave Love far too many opportunities to run the ball and the Cardinal smashed the UCLA Bruins. Arizona State was able to hang around with a heavy rushing attack of their own with 46 rushing attempts leading them to win the time of possession battle and keep Love of the field. It still was not enough as Love ran for 301 yards and three touchdowns.
Now it is cool to be a nerd:
In Stanford’s two loses USC and San Diego State both won the time of possession battle and their rushing attempts in those games exceeded their average rushing attempts per game. Arizona State also achieved these stats against Stanford which helped the Sun Devils keep the game close. The Trojans were the only team that was able to contain Love for most of the game.
So the answer to beating Stanford at this point seems to be containing their explosive offensive weapon when he is on the field then dominate the time of possession with a physical, and efficient rushing attack to pound away at the Cardinal defense. In other words, currently the best way to beat Stanford is to play like a stereotypical Stanford team. We truly have come a long way from the days when everyone was trying to copy Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks scheme in the post Pete Carroll USC era.
Utah has a great run defense:
The Utes statistically have a dominant rushing defense. They only allow an average of 2.8 yards per rushing attempt good for 8th best in the nation. The Utes’ defense is also only allowing 97.7 rushing yards per game which ranks them 17th in the nation. The Utes’ defensive front is impressive and is the toughest front Stanford has tried to run into all season long. Conventional wisdom suggests that Stanford is going to have to make some plays through the air to help Bryce Love and the rushing attack.
Utah’s defensive statistics may be a little soft:
The other side of the coin is that Stanford is by far the best rushing attack Utah has faced all season. While Stanford has been competing with the likes of USC, UCLA, Arizona State and SDSU, the Utes have compiled their impressive defensive stats against the likes of North Dakota, San Jose State, BYU, and Arizona.
Arizona, at least statistically, has a pretty solid rushing attack and the Wildcats were able to put up 200 yards on the ground. The Wildcats did not have a stellar game from their QB Brandon Dawkins who went 24 of 42 for 248 yards with one passing touchdown and three interceptions. Arizona in fact had five turnovers against Utah and the Wildcats were still in a position to win the game before their final two drives were cut short by turnovers.
One important note here is that Arizona uses a rushing QB and run pass option plays can cause all sorts of problems for an aggressive run defense. Stanford does not have this sort of advantage, at least not with Keller Chryst starting. Shaw may want to get creative in how they use Love to try and exploit this. In the past offensive creativity from Shaw has either meant the occasional flea flicker or McCaffrey passing the ball. Unfortunately it has also meant a ton of running out of the Wildcat formation.
Full game information is below:
Stanford Cardinal (3-2, 2-1 conf.) at Utah Utes (4-0, 1-0 conf.)
How to Watch:
Start Time: Saturday, October 7, 7:15p.m. PST
Location: Rice-Eccles Stadium — Salt Lake City, Utah
Radio: Tune In
Live Streaming: Fox Sports Go
Vegas Odds: Stanford -3.5, 51.5 O/U
FPI Matchup Predictor: Stanford 76.5% win probability
S&P+ Ratings: 31-27 Stanford victory
Massey Rankings: Stanford win probability of 57% with a projected final score of 28-25
CFB Predictions Composite: Stanford wins by 3
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