STANFORD — Long before he became the nation’s leading running back, Stanford’s Bryce Love spent two seasons as a backup to 2015 Heisman Trophy runner-up Christian McCaffrey. It was McCaffrey who helped teach Love to dream big but remain focused on the bottom line.
That’s why when Love piled up a career-best 263 yards against UCLA last week, it wasn’t really all that shocking. Nor was it a surprise when Love opted to stay on the sidelines for the final four minutes, even though he needed 25 more yards to break McCaffrey’s single-game school record.
It was, Love insisted afterward, the right thing to do and the same thing that McCaffrey would have done.
“The big thing with it — and Christian had the same thing — just always believe, have that belief,” Love said. “I’m not big with numbers and stuff like that, but why not come in and have however many yards? The big thing with me and him is just we always wanted to win.”
The way things have played out so far, Love could have much more in common with McCaffrey. Love not only leads the country with 787 rushing yards heading into Saturday’s home game against Arizona State, he’s on pace to join McCaffrey as the only two players in school history to run for 2,000 yards or more in a single season.
“We all knew he had blazing speed, even his freshman year,” wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside said. “We all saw the potential in him. Having guys like Christian in front of him for Bryce to take notes on is a pretty good role model.”
Stanford has leaned on Love more than originally anticipated this season because of the team’s increasing uncertainty at quarterback.
“He’s got so much speed and so much explosion, we all know this was going to happen,” Cardinal coach David Shaw said. “How many yards and what people say, you never know. But we knew he was a running back and we knew he was going to get the tough yards. All he needed was carries.”
Here are a few other things to watch for when Stanford (2-2, 1-1 Pac-12 ) hosts Arizona State (2-2, 1-0) at 1 p.m. Saturday:
Stanford has already faced what are likely to be two of the top quarterbacks in next year’s NFL draft in USC’s Sam Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen. Things won’t get much easier this week. Arizona State’s Manny Wilkins is third in the Pac-12 with 1,271 yards and eight touchdowns. Wilkins has also tied the Sun Devils’ school record with his current streak of 188 consecutive passes without an interception.
“He’s really matured and working hard on being efficient fundamentally and not putting the ball in jeopardy,” Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. “He’s played at a level all four weeks for us to win. I’ve got a lot of confidence in Manny where he’s at now.”
Shaw declined to name a starting quarterback earlier this week because he was awaiting news on Keller Chryst’s health. Chryst suffered a first-quarter injury that knocked him out of the game against UCLA, leaving the remainder of the game in the hands of backups KJ Costello and Ryan Burns.