Stanford, Calif. - Sideline to sideline, end zone to end zone, score to score.
Stanford running back Bryce Love was all over the field during the Cardinal’s 34-24 victory over Arizona State Saturday, and the Sun Devils’ defensive unit that improved last week against Oregon was nowhere to be found.
The junior tailback tallied 301 yards on 25 carries and added three touchdowns during his monster week four performance, breaking the all-time Stanford rushing record set by Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey against California in 2016.
Arizona State countered with everything it had, using both three and four-man fronts, blitzing up the middle and bringing pressure from the outside. Nothing stopped Love, and following the loss ASU head coach Todd Graham admitted that the Devils struggled to bring him down.
“Every play that he broke we had someone there unblocked and couldn’t tackle him,” Graham said. “You have to give him credit, he’s very very good.”
Love needed just one carry to give the Cardinal a 7-0 lead Saturday, exploding through a huge gap in the ASU defensive line and taking it 61 yards for the score on the fourth play of the game.
ASU answered with a field goal, but Love struck once again on the ensuing drive. The 5 foot 10, 196 pound junior shredded the Sun Devils’ defense for a 43 yard score, often breaking and evading tackles while beating Arizona State defensive backs down the sideline to extend the Cardinal lead to 14-3.
Arizona State answered Love’s second-consecutive long score with a 75 yard drive punctuated by a direct-snap, three yard touchdown run by senior running back Demario Richard that cut the ASU deficit to 14-10.
Direct snaps were only one of the many new wrinkles offensive coordinator Billy Napier incorporated into the ASU’s offensive game plan against the Cardinal. ASU’s loss to Stanford came just days after Napier’s father had passed away, and Graham praised the first-year coaches’ resilience in light of his incredibly difficult situation.
“He’s a champion for coming and doing that today,” Graham said. “He did a good job for us today, that was tough.”
The Sun Devils offense was very productive during the first half, but it was ASU’s defensive effort that often negated any momentum the team could attain.
Arizona State allowed another 75 yard touchdown drive from Stanford that increased the Cardinal lead to 21-10.
The Devils opened the playbook during their final drive of the first half, utilizing a flea-flicker, multiple direct snaps and a touchdown pass from sophomore receiver N’Keal Harry to carry a manageable deficit into the half.
During the ASU’s score, Harry came from the slot to shotgun, took the snap, rolled right and found Ceejhay French-Love wide open for the touchdown.
“It was a little bit tough to see what was going on because of all the lineman,” Harry said, reminiscing on his first-ever touchdown pass. “But at the end I didn’t want to throw the ball away. I ended up seeing him wide open, so Ceejhay did a great job and we just executed it.”
KJ Costello tallied two long completions before the end of the half that produced a last-second field goal, giving Stanford a 24-17 lead at the break.
Coming out of the half, Arizona State seemed to have made an adjustment to counter Love’s rushing attack, as they stuffed the Cardinal’s start tailback twice at the line of scrimmage on Stanford’s first drive.
But then, like clockwork, Love gashed the Sun Devils for a huge gain.
Love took the handoff 59 yards straight up the middle of the ASU defense for his third touchdown of the afternoon, propelling Stanford to a 31-17 lead midway through the third quarter.
The Sun Devils struggled to produce on offense during the second half, and as Graham noted, a key turnover midway through the third quarter was a large reason why.
“We’re moving the ball and we’re almost to mid field and then we throw an interception on first down,” Graham said. That was a huge play in the game.”
The Devils offense managed just 34 yards during the third quarter, completely collapsing at a time the team needed it the most.
Arizona State would score first with eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter, but by the time it regained possession, Stanford had marched on a five-minute, 71 yard drive that put the Cardinal out in front 34-24.
Love carried the ball six times for 63 yards on the Cardinal’s final drive Saturday, adding rushes of 31 and 11 yards, the latter of which finally broke McCaffery’s record.
The Devils knew what was coming. Love had compiled 787 yards before his matchup against the Sun Devils, but senior defensive tackle Tashon Smallwood mentioned how much more difficult it is to stop him when he’s actually on the field.
“Seeing how he runs, he’s good as getting in the creases and he’s patient,” Smallwood said. “It’s different from watching on film and actually playing against that.”
Arizona State’s third loss of the season in Palo Alto Saturday came just a week after the program had managed a historic victory over then ranked No. 24 Oregon and had seemingly captured momentum after a brutal start to the season.
Now, things are trending in the wrong direction for Graham and the Sun Devils once again.
ASU has a bye week to prepare for a three-game stretch that includes No. 6 Washington, an undefeated Utah team on the road and Sam Darnold and USC.
The Sun Devils had a shot at attaining their first back-to-back victories since September of 2016 and a chance to gain a significant momentum boost ahead of the most difficult portion of their schedule — but Bryce Love and Stanford had other plans, sending the Devils back to Tempe empty handed with a matchup against a top-ranked Washington team looming large.