ASU football will have its hands full of Love this weekend

Bryce Love leads the nation in rushing yards, so slowing him down will be a tough task for the Sun Devils

Unless you are a die-hard college football fan, you probably have not heard of Stanford junior running back Bryce Love. That makes sense because he was the second running back behind Christian McCaffrey for the Cardinal last season.

However, this year, Love leads the nation with 787 rushing yards, so in the words of the immortal Ron Burgundy, he's "kind of a big deal." Some even think he has a chance to win the Heisman trophy. 

It is doubtful that Love possesses many leather-bound books or that his college apartment smells of rich mahogany, but his 10.8 yards per carry should strike fear into any opposing defense.

But the Sun Devils are not afraid of him, partly because they have faced other top-tier running backs this season.

"That's why we aren't even intimidated," senior linebacker DJ Calhoun said. "Honestly (Rashaad) Penny was the best one. He was nice. Royce (Freeman) was good too, he was big, physical. Penny was both."

Both Penny and Freeman are gifted backs who are also in the top-five nationally in rushing yards. The two have had different levels of success against ASU, as Penny blazed for 216 rushing yards and a touchdown (along with a kickoff return and a receiving score), while Freeman ran for 81 yards and a touchdown. 

Love is talented, but presents a different set of challenges for the Sun Devils. Unlike Penny and Freeman, who are bigger players (Penny at 5 foot 11 inches, 220 pounds, Freeman at 6 feet, 238 pounds), Love is thinner, weighing 196 pounds, and shorter at 5 feet 10 inches. 

His smaller frame allows him to be faster and more agile in space. 

"Love, I'll say he really has more speed and he knows how to keep his feet," Calhoun said. "And the way he runs is kind of different, he'll like, shuffle."

Like any running back, some of Love's success is due to his offensive line play. In recent years, the Cardinal has been known for a dominant offensive line, but last year its play was spotty.

But the line looks improved in 2017. After returning four starters from last season, the Cardinal has been steady on the offensive line.

"Stanford has been known for that (offensive line) for a while, and they do it well. They've been blocking well for him," senior defensive lineman Tashon Smallwood said.

Last week against UCLA, Love ran for 263 yards, but Stanford gained 405 combined rushing yards, meaning other Stanford players were able to be successful behind the offensive line. 

In the play above, the Cardinal has extra blockers up front that stop UCLA defenders from disrupting the play on the line of scrimmage. Love follows his blocks, first from the fullback in the backfield, then from his pulling left guard down the field, leading to him scoring a 69-yard score without being touched. 

That is why Love is so deadly. He follows his blocks well, and his speed and quickness make him extremely difficult to tackle once he hits the open field. 

"I think good running backs have good vision," ASU defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said. "He's a lot like a smaller version of the Penny kid. (He) presses the hole and he slides. (He) keeps a very good base and he's probably the fastest back we've played."

The Sun Devils have seen running backs of Love's ability, but if they fail to play crisp football, the Stanford junior could have a lovely afternoon on Saturday.


Reach the reporter at mpharri7@asu.edu or follow @Harris_Mark7 on Twitter.

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