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The Alamo Bowl: What TCU Can Expect From Stanford’s Bryce Love

The Heisman finalist is a problem for opposing defenses, and makes for a tough challenge for a strong TCU front.

NCAA Football: Washington at Stanford John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

There is not a tougher player in college football than Stanford’s Bryce Love.

I can understand why that guy from Oklahoma won the Heisman, but there wasn’t all that much separating the nation’s top two players, especially if you factor in two things:

  1. In most of the games that he played, Love was repeatedly limping off of the field between plays, in significant pain from a bad high ankle sprain that opponents were routinely getting extra shots on.
  2. He’s studying Human Biology at Stanford, making his workload a little bit more than this year’s Heisman winner, who is a Communications major at OU.

Bryce Love put together a season for the ages, one that not a lot of people had the privilege of watching, as most of his games kicked off well past bedtime for the majority of college football fans. But his place in the Pacific Time Zone shouldn’t take away from what he accomplished for 9-4 Stanford in his junior season, a campaign that saw him rush for 1,973 yards and score 17 touchdowns, all on a staggering 8.3 yards per carry - and a gimpy leg. Love rushed for less than 100 yards just once this season, on a Friday night game against Washington State when he tried to come back on a short week after missing the game prior due to the injury he suffered against Oregon. He rushed for at least 125 yards ten times, at least 150 seven, and 200 or more twice, including eclipsing the 300 yard mark against Arizona State. He has never averaged less than 7.0 yards per carry over a season in his three year career.

So, what is it about Love that makes him so dang good? Let’s go to the film.

That O-Line Tho:

It starts up front with a Stanford offensive line that would give Jason Garrett palpitations, as they run 298, 299, 307, 246, and 287 pounds across the board. With three seniors and two sophomores in the unit, it’s an experienced group, and with most having blocked for Christian McCaffrey as well, they know they just have to give the running back a window and he will do the rest.

And they are really good at doing just that.

It doesn’t take much to get Love to the second level, but look at the pocket the line gives him and the options he has once he gets the ball in his hands. What separates Love from the pack is his vision. In the clip below, the offensive line gives Love several options, but he is so adept at taking the right lane and turning a first down run into a huge one.

Patience is a virtue:

Love isn’t a huge guy (5’10”, 196 pounds), and he uses that to his advantage behind a massive o-line. He does a fantastic job of ducking down behind his blockers and waiting for the crease to open, before bursting through the lane. And while he might not be big, he certainly isn’t small, and is plenty strong to break tackles.

Bounce with me:

Love has the ability to run both inside and out - and often does both on the same play. His combination of strength and speed makes him a unique challenge for a defense, who can think they’ve bottled the running back up, only to see him bounce it outside and create something out of nothing. Love does just that, twice, in the clip below, squeezing through a tiny hole, cutting hard to get an opponent diving at air, and then turning the corner to pick up big yardage.

Speed, baby:

Love has ELITE speed. But he also has elite quickness. His arsenal of jukes and cuts get him into space, and once he turns off the afterburners, HE GONE.

With a 4.30 40 and several national sprinting records (Love still holds the national mark for 13 and 14 year old boys with a 10.73 100 yard dash), Bryce can flat out run by people. But the truly impressive part this aspect of his game is how quickly he can get back to top speed after taking a hit or breaking a tackle:

Love nearly gets horse-collared, breaks free, tiptoes down the sideline, breaks away, and is back to a full sprint before any Sun Devils can think about catching him. It’s almost unfair.

Does Love win?

This is such a fun bowl game matchup for a variety of reasons, and the Love vs Gary Patterson one might be the best of the bunch. GP always prides himself on his teams being able to stop the run, and that will be their goal against Stanford and Love. The Frogs are the country’s fourth best rushing defense, allowing less than three yards per carry and just six touchdowns all the ground all year. Love is far and away the best back they’ve faced, but it’s not like they’ve played scrubs either - Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill, Iowa State’s David Montgomery, and WVU’s Justin Crawford all rank among the nation’s leading rushers, and Oklahoma’s Rodney Anderson would certainly top that list had he played a full 13 games.

TCU will try and close the line of scrimmage with an assist from the big boys in the middle; defensive tackles Ross Blacklock, Chris Bradley, Corey Bethley, and LJ Collier all take up a lot of space inside. Mat Boesen and Ben Banogu are so fast off the edge that they can hopefully cut down the outside lanes, while Travin Howard and Innis Gaines can assist on cutbacks with their combination of speed and power. The Frogs don’t have to stop Love -and it’s a good thing, too, because no one has yet - but they need to bottle him up enough to force the Cardinal to put the game in KJ Costello’s hands (who is no slouch, either, but we will get to him, later). The goal is to keep Love around 100 yards but away from the game-breaking plays that swing momentum. No long touchdown runs, no big receptions, and as many two and three yard gains as five and eight. It’s a tall task, but Patterson’s D should be up for the challenge.