The Stanford Cardinal have been one of the most consistent college football programs in the Pac-12 over the last decade, going to three Rose Bowls and consistently contending for the Pac-12 title. However, the team has struggled a bit so far this season, with a 2-2 record (1-1 in Pac-12) and one of the worst defenses the Cardinal have had in the David Shaw era. Despite coming into the season with a No. 14 ranking, Stanford has not lived up to its billing, even with a dynamic rushing attack led by one of the most talented running backs in the country.
Here are some things to watch out for from Stanford:
Spreading the Love
There has been no running back more electric this season than Stanford junior Bryce Love. Love was somewhat hidden last year behind All-American running back Christian McCaffrey, but after being given the starting gig this year, Love has absolutely run away with the opportunity. With 787 yards on the ground, Love leads the nation in rushing and has already eclipsed his total rushing yards from last season. He has at least one rush for 50 yards in each of his last six games, the only Power Five running back to do so since 2004.
Love is averaging a ridiculous 10.8 yards per carry and he’s been putting up those kinds of numbers against solid defensive programs like San Diego State and USC. With some inconsistent quarterback play and terrible defense, Love has been the one glimmering hope for the Cardinal so far this season and his explosive running ability has carried the offense. ASU has to key in on limiting big plays from Love or else they have little chance of slowing down Stanford.
What Happened to Defense?
A hallmark of Stanford’s success in recent years has been a combination of the ability to run the ball and play some of the best defense in the country. While the Cardinal have maintained the rushing ability, there has been a severe drop off in the performance of the defense.
Stanford is allowing almost 455 total yards per game and opponents have averaged almost 26 points per contest. That’s almost 100 yards and a touchdown higher than it was last year and it’s hurt the Cardinal significantly so far this season. If it wasn’t for Love taking so much time off of the clock with his consistent running, Stanford’s defense might be doing even worse if it were forced to be on the field for longer stretches.
Facing off against an ASU offense that has managed to move the ball pretty well through the air, Stanford might have a tough day at home in Palo Alto.
The Cardinal and Sun Devils face off on Saturday at 1 p.m. MT on Pac-12 Network.