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Park: Bryce Love’s stellar talent pushes Stanford’s loaded backfield over the top

Every Sunday morning before I decide what to write this column about, I’ll go through highlights of the previous day’s game just to remind myself of what actually happened — as a broadcaster, it’s really easy to forget a lot of the plays that went down, because I’m forced to live in the moment and leave each play behind as soon as it happens so that I can analyze the next.

As I’m sure you know, David Shaw put on a play-calling masterclass yesterday the likes of which I haven’t seen this season. But I’m not going to talk about the Christian McCaffrey halfback pass or the Dalton Schultz play-action touchdown (a play-call that, quite literally, brought me to my knees in the press box out of shock and awe).

Instead, I’m going to talk about the play — and the player — that I haven’t been able to stop watching on repeat since I first re-watched the highlight: that 47-yard Bryce Love touchdown run in the third quarter.

Everybody seems to think of Love as just a fast guy — in the Kelsey Young mold of years past — but I don’t think he gets anywhere near enough credit for his elusiveness and his tackle-breaking ability, which are factors that set him apart from any speedster I’ve seen in a long time. This touchdown run exemplifies everything that sets him apart in one neat package.

For example, on that play, Colorado has the play sniffed out — the Buffaloes get an outside linebacker, Jimmie Gilbert, unblocked, who should have had an easy tackle for a 4-yard loss. And Love’s cut isn’t enough to make Gilbert miss — Gilbert still wraps up around Love’s legs.

But somehow, Love sheds the tackle of the 230-pound Gilbert like it’s nothing and then keeps running downfield, making a cut to get past a safety in space — and then looks downfield for his blockers while running, making another cut to get behind the block of offensive lineman Joshua Garnett.

And then the afterburners kick in. Somehow, in the span of 30 yards, Love gains a 10-yard cushion on every defender while he cruises into the end zone — no sweat.

He’s got the top speed of a fighter jet, the acceleration of a Lamborghini, the maneuverability of a BMX bike and the drive of a Hummer. After having watched Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney work for years, I have to rub my eyes and look again just to make sure that he does, in fact, have the Stanford block S on his helmet.

And when all of those elements come together into one complete package, the results are breathtaking. On several occasions this year, Stanford has thrown screens to him in isolation, with no other blockers near him (which is usually a prerequisite when setting up a screen), trusting him to make the cornerback miss. He does.

When he does get blockers on his screens — well, he busts out 93-yard touchdown receptions, like we saw against UCF. And when he gets met by a defender, he’ll run through the first one or two arm tackles.

Even considering the plethora of talented speedsters to come through the college game in the last few years — De’Anthony Thomas and Dri Archer come to mind — I can’t remember anybody that’s been able to integrate other elements like vision and tackle-breaking ability along with blazing speed.

There are precious few guys in the country that command your attention every single time they touch the ball, but Bryce Love is one of those guys. I can’t turn away when he has the ball in his hands, because I can never be sure that he won’t turn a 4-yard loss into a 47-yard touchdown or a 10-yard gain into a 93-yard score. And he does it in style.

And he’s only a freshman.

With the progress that Love and McCaffrey have made this season, I’m confident in saying that next year, Stanford will have one of the top — if not the top — backfields in the country.

From McCaffrey’s Heisman-worthy hybrid performance as a power back/speed back/slot receiver/quarterback(?!?), to the unfathomable raw skills of Love, to Cameron Scarlett and his 220 pounds of classic Stanford power back, the Cardinal have an insane wealth of riches in their backfield. And the Cardinal won’t be limited to one dimension at the position like they were from 2009 to 2014 — they’ll be their 2015 selves, but even better and even more dynamic (somehow).

Leonard Fournette is a good running back, but he doesn’t have the speed of Love or the versatility of McCaffrey. Nick Chubb has power and vision, but he doesn’t have the breakaway acceleration. There’s no running back crew in the country that can match up to Stanford’s multi-headed monster, and it’s going to be thrilling to see what this wrecking crew can do to Pac-12 defenses in the coming years.

And now, more than ever before, I’m confident that David Shaw is going to be able to use all of the tools at his disposal to their fullest potential. I, for one, can’t wait.

 

To tell Do-Hyoung Park to get over his man-crush on Bryce Love, contact him at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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