STANFORD — Bryce Love has yet to match last year’s record-setting season and Stanford football coach David Shaw said lack of consistent play by the offensive line has been a major contributor.
Hit by injuries, the offensive line has yet to start the same five guys in back-to-back games, and Shaw thinks that’s just part of it.
“We still have some inconsistencies up front,” Shaw said Tuesday. “We’ve addressed individual accountability.”
Love will play a critical role, one way or the other, when No. 7 Stanford plays at No. 8 Notre Dame on Saturday.
The Cardinal’s rushing totals are nearly half of what they were last season, when they averaged 202.4 yards a game. This year, Stanford averages 104.3 yards.
“One issue is missing blocks,” Shaw said. “Bryce has a couple of big runs and we need to give him more opportunities to make plays.”
Love averages 4.3 yards a carry through his first three games — he missed the UC Davis game with a minor injury — a long way off the 8.1 yards he averaged last year and his career average of 7.3.
“We went into the year knowing teams will try to stop or runner, and rightfully so,” Shaw said. “We have to be ready for teams who say ‘I don’t want 20 to best us.’ We have to be sure that when someone is blocked, they stay blocked.”
Center Jesse Burkett said it’s a matter of fixing a few details that will give Love more opportunities.
“It takes all 11 guys to have a successful play,” he said. “If one guy misses an assignment or there’s a mental error, it throws everything off. We’ve had a lot of penalties too, holding and false stars. One thing we haven’t handled as well as we could have are the unscouted looks. That’s when we need to rely on technique.”
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly remains wary of Love’s ability despite his lack of production this season.
“He’s going to get his yards. He’s just too good of a player,” Kelly said. “I think you’re really focusing on making sure that you’re not short at the point of attack. You can’t put him in a situation where he can go the distance. You’re looking at minimizing his opportunities to turn easy offensive plays into touchdowns.”
Burkett and offensive linemen A.T. Hall, Walker Little and Devry Hamilton have missed time this season, and right guard Nate Herbig has had to play tackle. Hamilton should return this week, and that should stabilize the line.
“Stanford is always going to have a big, physical offensive line,” Kelly said. “K.J. Costello has really come into his own this year, distributing the football. He’s got a number of weapons. We all know (JJ) Arcega-Whiteside has been a go-to guy but a number of the tight ends are outstanding, big body types that he can get the football to. We saw that late in the game against Oregon with Colby Parkinson, Kaden Smith.”
Costello averages 264 yards in passing and he’s been forced to throw a lot with the ineffectiveness of the running game.
“He’s made a lot of growth,” Shaw said of Costello. “I believe he has a high ceiling and he wants to reach it. We want him him to reach it too. He’ll continue to grow, continue to improve.”