PULLMAN – Stanford playing football in the snow is rare – even more rare than a lackluster day from electric Cardinal running back Bryce Love.
Both things happened Saturday afternoon in No. 25 Washington State’s 24-21 win at Martin Stadium, and easily the most surprising turn of events – unless you hadn’t checked the forecast – was Love not exploding for a 100-plus yards.
A week after surrendering 310 yards on the ground to Arizona, the Cougars made Stanford’s Heisman Trophy candidate and the nation’s leading rusher look ordinary in a pivotal Pac-12 North game.
Love squeezed out 69 rushing yards on 16 carries, just 4.3 yards per attempt. And if you take away Love’s 52-yard TD scamper in the second quarter, he had 17 yards on 15 carries.
Consider Love’s previous rushing low this year was 147 yards against Oregon and that he came into Saturday with 1,387 yards on the ground – an astounding 10.3 yards per carry.
“I thought we ran the ball as well as you can run it against these guys,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “These guys are tough. We broke the big one. We didn’t break anymore.”
Later, though, Shaw said this: “… I just thought repeatedly we were one block away from having some big runs, but we weren’t getting that one block.”
The Cougars stood up or corralled the 196-pound junior behind the line of scrimmage seven times. On six of his nine other carries, he didn’t get more than 4 yards.
This was Stanford’s first game in snow since 1936 when it played at Columbia in New York, according to the school’s media relations department (which remarkably has tracked this). Shaw and Stanford’s players said the conditions weren’t a factor. In fact, star defensive tackle Harrison Phillips said if it was going to be cold, and it was, the Cardinal wanted it to snow.
If anything, they probably should have hoped for buckets of snow instead of the light, intermittent flurries that started in the second quarter. Worse conditions likely would have favored Stanford, which WSU coach Mike Leach called “maybe the most strong and physical team in the conference.”
Stanford doesn’t shy away from its rush-first offense, and Shaw wanted to pound the ball against the Cougs. But he bemoaned the lack of chances he took in the passing game.
“Not enough opportunities,” Shaw said. “… Call it conservative, call it whatever you want. We wanted to stick with the running game, but we weren’t as efficient as we needed to be.”
Stanford quarterback K.J. Costello was 9-of-20 passing for 105 yards. The Cardinal rarely challenged WSU down the field, even though the Cougs often brought more defenders close to the line of scrimmage – leaving receivers with one-on-one opportunities.
“I felt our defense did very well mitigating their run game,” Leach said.
The leaders on that front were linebackers Jahad Woods (a team-high eight tackles), Justus Rogers (a team-best 2.5 tackles-for-loss) – and strong safety Jalen Thompson, whom Love stiff-armed on his way for his long touchdown but finished with 1.5 TFLs.
“Watching the film, those guys play hard,” Stanford linebacker Bobby Okereke said of WSU’s D. “Blitzing all over the place. Big hits. So (we have) respect for the way they played.”