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Washington at Stanford: Football fans gotta Love this matchup

Stanford’s Bryce Love was pretty much held in check by the Washington State defense Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, the main exception being this 52-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. On Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, Stanford faces the Washington Huskies, whose defense has not allowed a play of more than 40 yards this season. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Stanford’s Bryce Love was pretty much held in check by the Washington State defense Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, the main exception being this 52-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. On Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, Stanford faces the Washington Huskies, whose defense has not allowed a play of more than 40 yards this season. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

No defense in the country has been better than Washington at limiting big plays.

No running back in the country has been better than Stanford’s Bryce Love at creating big plays.

Thus, the No. 9 Huskies’ ability to stay in the College Football Playoff chase will depend in large part on how well they chase down Love on Friday night at Stanford Stadium.

UW sports the No. 1 defense in college football, and the Huskies are the only defense in the country that hasn’t allowed a single play of 40 yards this season.

Love is the No. 1 rusher in college football, averaging 182.0 yards per game, and he’s had a run of 50 yards or more in each of the past 10 games. No one in college football over the past 20 years has had such a streak, according to Stanford research.

Stanford has created a website — BryceLove20.com — to promote Love’s Heisman Trophy bid. Spread the Heisman Love, they say.

“He’s obviously really fast, but his ability to keep his legs moving is probably underrated,” UW middle linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven said. “He’s a tough kid and a lot of the big runs he’s had this year is not because he’s had a perfect block. He’s made guys miss and run through guys. He’s a pretty special talent.”

Love is averaging 9.64 yards per carry this season.

The Huskies are holding opponents to 2.58 yards per carry, third-best in the country. They have allowed just two running plays of more than 20 yards, tied for fewest in the nation, and none more than 29 yards.

Limiting those “explosive” plays is a big reason for the Huskies’ success.

“We’ve done a good job of doing that,” defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said, “and it makes it harder on offenses to put those long drives together to score. The credit to that goes to the team defense. Everybody’s doing their job.”

Love, a 5-foot-10, 196-pound junior, sat out Stanford’s ugly 15-14 victory at Oregon State two weeks ago with an ankle injury. He returned last weekend in the Cardinal’s 24-21 loss at Washington State, when the Cougars held him to a season-low 69 yards on 16 carries. Love did have a 52-yard TD run, but the Cougars bottled him up otherwise, hitting him for a loss on seven of his carries.

Quarterback K.J. Costello, in his second start of the season, was 9-for-20 for 105 yards with one interception and one rushing TD in Stanford’s first game in the snow since 1936. He’s been named the starter this week, too.

Stanford coach David Shaw took blame for the loss at WSU.

“I feel like I let my team down,” he said, according the San Jose Mercury News. “Those out there that want to take your shots at me, this is the week to do it. Go ahead and take them. I deserve them. That’s fine.”