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STANFORD — Bryce Love’s “jet streak” came to an end last Friday. Love had previously played in eight games this season, and in all eight he recorded a run of 50 yards or more. It was an NCAA first. Love didn’t get there against Washington, though he did break a 30-yarder. Ultimately, he had to console himself with 166 yards and three touchdowns in Stanford’s 30-22 upset victory against the then-No. 9 Huskies.

Disappointing? His running backs coach thought it was one of Love’s best games of the season.

“Oh, yeah,” Ron Gould said. “He had a run going to the right, and he came through the line. They tried cutting our first puller. He jumps over that, he put that same foot in the ground and he accelerates to the second level. I’m standing there like, ‘Whoa! This is his best run of the year.’ Not very many guys can do it.”

Anyway, there were mitigating factors. Like, Washington entered the game with the nation’s top-ranked defense. And Love’s ankle was less than 100 percent. And the meteoric halfback was this close to doing a lot more.

“He had a couple runs last week that I told him he didn’t maximize just one little thing I was coaching him on, and he would have scored two more touchdowns,” Gould said.

I wanted to get a better sense of Love’s abilities, so I spoke to Gould after practice Tuesday. The Cardinal work out when classes are over. It was 7 p.m. by the time they wrapped up drills, and it was chilly at Elliott Fields. Gould was coughing a little by the end of the interview, probably an occupational hazard for college football coaches.

Gould, you should know, has a track record. During his 16 seasons as the Cal running backs coach, he tutored J.J. Arrington and Marshawn Lynch, C.J. Anderson and Jahvid Best, Justin Forsett and Shane Vereen, Adimchinobe Echimandu, Will Ta’ufo’ou, Daniel Lasco and Byron Storer. All of them went on to play in the NFL. Berkeley became an NFL pipeline for running backs, and Gould was the pipefitter.

His current task is to make things miserable for his former program. Gould joined David Shaw’s staff at Stanford this year after spending four seasons as the head coach at UC Davis. This Saturday, the Cardinal will host Cal in the 120th installment of our local Big Game.

Spoiler alert: Gould likes Love. Likes him a lot. Talks about how unassuming and hardworking and tough the athlete from Wake Forest, North Carolina, is.

“It will take you five seconds talking to the kid to realize he’s special,” Gould said.

Love is a magnetic personality. This is Stanford we’re talking about, so of course he’s involved in stem cell research. As outlined in a Sports Illustrated feature that ran in October, Love spends portions of several days each week in the laboratory of Michael Longaker, a surgeon studying the use of stem cells to reduce scarring as patients heal. In the lab and on the field, he tends to charm people with his smile.

But charisma and brains don’t make great football players. What Love has in true abundance is foot speed. He set several USA Track & Field age-group records when he was 11, 12, 13 and 14, was a 4x100-meter state champion in high school and would likely be an Olympic hopeful in the sprints if he didn’t enjoy football so much.

Love’s straight-line speed helped him average better than 7 yards per carry in each of his first two seasons at Stanford, when he was in a supporting role behind Christian McCaffrey, who is now a rookie with the Carolina Panthers. When Gould got here, he encouraged Love to think beyond his speed. He wanted the running back to make tacklers miss rather than simply outrun them.

Gould found an eager pupil.

“You gotta watch him in meetings,” the coach said. “He takes copious notes. He sits right next to me. I’m sitting here, he sits there. We install as an offense. So Coach Bloom (offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren) installs the run game, Coach Shaw installs the pass game, and we’ll break up and then I’ll have my meeting. And it doesn’t matter which meeting he’s in, he’s taking copious notes.”

In the film room, Love has learned to anticipate the angles would-be tacklers will take, and to use their momentum against them.

“Obviously, we’re scheming things to get him to that second level,” Gould said. “But this is where it comes back to his attention to detail. We will meet and go over exactly what the run’s supposed to look like, what we’re anticipating. So he knows where the double teams are coming, he knows where the kick-out blocks are coming, and so he can anticipate that.”

On the practice field, Gould has designed workouts to test Love with tacklers coming from every direction, and with pads to leap over and avoid. A lot of it has to do with training Love’s eyes to read the defense in the proper progression.

“I got little drills, of going through the first level, second level, third level,” Gould said. “I call ’em tools. Give him more tools so he can maximize his ability. God has given him a talent. And so all I do is give him little nuggets to put in his toolbox.”

The result has been spectacular. Love leads the nation with 1,622 rushing yards, despite missing one game (at Oregon State) because of his troublesome ankle, and is averaging a robust 9 yards per carry. He gashed UCLA for 263 yards and carved up Arizona State for 301 in consecutive weeks in late September. If it weren’t for Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, Love might be the Heisman Trophy favorite.

Those long runs can be intoxicating. But Love could never thrive at Stanford if all he had was straight-line speed. Shaw’s offense has always featured power formations and plenty of inside gap running. That has shifted only a little with the ascendance of McCaffrey, and now Love. It’s a bit surprising when you see Love in person. He’s listed at 5-feet-10, 196 pounds, but he looks smaller than that up close.

“I don’t know that people knew he could run between the tackles the way he is running between the tackles,” Shaw said Tuesday. “I think now people are trying to approach him very similar to Christian, which is try to keep him boxed in, don’t give him the edge and make sure someone’s standing in front of him to make him go sideways. Because if he gets going vertical, in the open space, he’s hard to catch.”

Even with that gimpy ankle. Love hasn’t practiced in full in more than a month.

“A little bit better this week than the week before, which is a little bit better than the week before,” is how Shaw characterized it. “It’s gradually improving.”

This is a brutal assignment for Cal. The Bears have shown defensive improvement under first-year coach Justin Wilcox, but have not been consistent. Three weeks ago, Arizona ran for 345 yards in Cal’s double-overtime loss. Since then, the Bears have done better against Colorado (200 rushing yards, but only 3.8 per carry) and Oregon State (104 yards and 3.4). Stanford still has a shot at the Pac-12 North championship, and will be highly motivated.

And you can bet Gould would get a kick out of beating his former program. He’d also like to help Bryce Love get to the NFL someday, as he did for Lynch and Best and Arrington and the others. When that time comes, you’ll be hearing a lot about Love’s size, and whether he can hold up to the pounding of pro football.

Gould needs no convincing.

“What all the NFL scouts are seeing, half of his yardage is coming after contact,” the coach said. “So he may not be the 215-pounder. But he runs like he’s 215 pounds. He’s gonna play at that level. … And he’ll make that team, wherever he goes, a lot better.”

You can reach columnist Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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