Through seven games, Bryce Love has nine carries of 50-plus yards, more than any RB in an entire season since 2014 Melvin Gordon’s 10 in 14 Wisconsin games.
While San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor have similar numbers of 10-yard runs (all three are right around 30), no one has matched Love’s explosiveness. Love has more 30-yard runs, 40-yard runs, and 50-yard runs than any other entire team in the country, plus six 60-yarders and a 70-yarder.
At 10.3 yards per carry, two Love carries make a Stanford first down far more likely than not. Love’s 1,387 rushing yards are 392 more than any other Power 5 running back and more than 101 other entire FBS teams.
Love has had nine straight games with a touchdown of at least 50 yards. No Heisman winner in the past 20 years has ever accomplished this feat, per Alan George.
Love also tied a streak set by Christian McCaffrey, as he went for his ninth consecutive game with at least 100 rushing yards. To make it all the more impressive, he accomplished both of the above two streaks in his only nine starts ever.
So what in the world is going on in these late-night Stanford games while the heir to McCaffrey is going off? A lot of things. Here are some of the major factors going into Love’s regular dashes.
1. Stanford’s Ogre package
While everyone else is zigging with the spread game, Stanford has been doing a lot of zagging under David Shaw. One of the Cardinal’s most pronounced zags is their use of massive personnel to secure the line of scrimmage.
Here’s one of Love’s long runs against San Diego State:
In addition to trotting out their typically big OL, the Cardinal have the following four “skill” players out there with Love and QB Keller Chryst:
- 6’5, 247-pound TE Scooter Harrington on the top of the screen
- 6’6, 242-pound TE Dalton Schultz near the bottom
- 6’3, 285-pound Nick Wilson as an H-back
- 6’2, 254-pound fullback Daniel Marx in the backfield.
Wilson caving in the edge for Marx and pulling guard David Bright’s lead blocks really make it hard for the Aztecs to secure the line of scrimmage.
Stanford has been going big a lot this season. Why not, when their run game is more likely to yield a big play than passing would be?
2. These guards are amazing
The Cardinal have gotten a major boon from being able to play their best offensive lineman, Bright, at guard rather than left tackle, while youngsters like freshman Walker Little or redshirt freshman Devery Hamilton have manned the blindside.
The redshirt senior is a brilliant puller, and the Cardinal are perhaps at their best pulling him behind massive their massive right side, featuring guard Nate Herbig (6’4, 339) and tackle A.T. Hall (6’6, 297). Watch the left guard’s quick movement here:
Bright secures the path before finding a Bruin at the next level, and Love is sprung for another 50-yard run.
Herbig is a great puller in his own right and clearly a cornerstone. Here he is pulling from left to right (before Bright took over the LG spot):
Their ability to stay square to the line and read the kick-out block for the cue on whether to lead outside or plow straight ahead makes the difference on a lot of Cardinal runs. Here, Rice is able to spill the kick-out outside, where they have a help defender ... to the misfortunate of that help defender. Herbig gets outside and pancakes him while Love follows him to paydirt.
When Stanford has a TE on the right, opponents better gear up for a power run behind a pulling Bright. But overloading to that side just exposes the defense to a counter:
Herbig is good at the kick-out block, pulling to the left on counter runs. His squatty build is great at rooting out defenders trying to stand their ground.
3. Follow me, comrades!
This team also has senior fullback and three-year starter Marx. Opponents have surely realized that when he is in the game, the ball tends to follow him.
Besides his instrumental role on normal power/counter schemes, Marx is also highly effective in old-school iso runs, drilling linebackers:
Life is hard against the Stanford run game, especially for modern linebackers chosen in large part for their ability to hold up against the spread. At times, you have to read keys, avoid a down blocking TE, and then avoid Bright. At other times, you're either racing downhill and crashing into Marx or you’re just getting plowed by their straight ahead runs.
4. At Stanford, even the QB can block
The Cardinal like to use unbalanced sets at times, with TEs made ineligible by the placement of WRs on the line outside of them. In some of those sets and others, they will often ask their QB to prevent penetration when they pull a guard. Watch No. 17 after the pitch:
San Diego State is blitzing its backside LB, and with the guard pulling, there aren’t enough guys left to account for him ... unless the QB helps.
5. And yep, Love is really fast and really good
Plenty of long runs have been about Love A) having great blocking and B) being really fast. This outside zone is a pretty good example:
Everyone blocks well here — especially the WRs fighting for snaps against the Ogres on the Cardinal roster — but it also really pays when the RB has good vision and this kind of burst.
You can bet Shaw is wishing he’d gone for it on fourth-and-1 against the Aztecs in Stanford’s early loss, or given Love more than 13 carries in that game (14 yards per).
Here was Stanford’s opening play to start the season:
Love is regularly running behind great blocking, but he sure knows how to cut off his blocks and can do real damage after he does so. His balance, vision, and acceleration in this running game was the first thing Stanford put on film, and they’ve put a great deal more of it out there for everyone to see. You might want to tune in for one of these late-night games and see for yourself.