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It’s a Love affair on The Farm

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Stanford finally finds rhythm to their offense with sophomore QB Costello

NCAA Football: UCLA at Stanford Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

In terms of purely rushing the ball, junior tailback Bryce Love (30 carries / 263 yards rushing / 8.77 yards per carry / 1 TD) looks like the reincarnation of Christian McCaffrey for this Stanford offense. His speed is unquestionably elite, but Saturday night on The Farm, it was his vision and change of pace that broke the Bruins’ will.

“Bryce (Love) is one of the best players in America,” Coach Shaw said of his star back. “There are not many guys like him.”

I would take that assessment a step farther to say that there is certainly no one else like him in college football today. Furthermore, like his good friend McCaffrey, some of his jukes in the hole remind me of the legendary Barry Sanders. Stanford fans are left to only wonder what could have been in losses against USC (17 for 160 / 9.4 ypc) and SDSU (13 for 184 / 14.2 ypc), had Love gotten more touches of the ball both rushing and receiving in those games.

By far the most mystifying statistic that I can provide on this year’s Cardinal team (2-2 / 1-1 PAC 12) up to this point, is quite simply, the fact that Bryce Love only has two receptions on the year. They need to get him much more involved in the screen and short passing game if they wish to maximize the potential of this offense going forward.

Aside from Love’s outstanding performance, the biggest revelation from Saturday’s game was sophomore quarterback K.J. Costello, who entered the game after an injury to starter Keller Chryst in the first quarter and provided the spark this Stanford passing attack had been so dearly missing. Over the first few possessions following the injury, Costello and senior Ryan Burns traded series, in search of the right offensive mojo for the Cardinal.

Coach Shaw found that and a great deal more in Costello (13 for 19 passing / 123 yards / 2 TDs / 2 rushes for 15 yards / 1 rushing TD / 94.2 QBR) Saturday night under the lights of Stanford Stadium, and the sophomore only seemed to gain composure and calmness as the game wore on. On an emotional level, it seemed as though he brought a fighting spirit to the offense, which had been lacking the past couple weeks—the energy on the field and sidelines was noticeable.

Costello was a five-star recruit out of Coto De Caza, CA, and in high school he broke Carson Palmer’s all-time record for passing yards at Santa Margarita Catholic. For the Cardinal to keep it rolling this season, Costello must continue to be a key player.

His counterpart, perennial Heisman hopeful Josh Rosen (40 for 60 passing / 480 yards / 3TD’s / 2 INT’s / 65.7 QBR), had moments where he looked like he might take over the game single-handedly. Unfortunately for the Bruins (2-2 / 0-1 PAC-12), their other skill position players just made too many mistakes to win a tough conference game on the road.

The entire Cardinal defense deserves significant credit for this win as well, forcing four Bruin turnovers on the night, and blocking a field goal that seemed to change the momentum in the contest. It was only fitting that Stanford senior captain Harrison Phillips (3 tackles / 1 sack / 1 tfl / 1 FG block) was the one who busted through two interior lineman to get his monster paw on that kick, and the joyous reaction of his teammates to that remarkable effort said it all.

Fellow All-American candidate junior safety Justin Reid (9 tackles / 1 INT / 2 PD) also had a big night against UCLA. Though he did miss an open-field tackle downfield for a long TD, his physicality in the box against the run, and his tremendous awareness of passing lanes again served Stanford well. Senior linebacker Bobby Okereke (8 tackles / 3 QB hurries) was another bright spot for the Cardinal defense, and seemed to be in the Bruin backfield for most of the night.

Stanford hosts Arizona State on The Farm next Saturday, and with Costello now firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback, the Cardinal faithful have to feel good about their chances to turn this season around.