PULLMAN – Bryce Love will either spend Saturday afternoon trying to push his Heisman Trophy campaign forward or he’ll be stuck on the Stanford sideline catching snowflakes with his tongue when the 20th-ranked Cardinal take on the Cougars in a crucial Pac-12 North game at Martin Stadium.
Stanford coach David Shaw declared Love a “game-time decision” for the 12:30 p.m. game in Pullman. Wintry conditions are in the forecast and the Cardinal could use all the weapons at their disposal in a game against the Pac-12’s second-ranked defense, one week after struggling to score 15 points against the league’s worst.
Because of an ankle injury, Love was unavailable when Stanford traveled to Corvallis, Oregon, last Thursday to play the Beavers. With their backfield dynamo missing, the Cardinal looked hapless on offense and nearly allowed the Beavers to slip out with their first Pac-12 win.
“He’ll probably be a game-time decision,” Shaw said Tuesday during a Pac-12 coaches teleconference call.
Love didn’t go through team drills in Palo Alto on Tuesday, but Shaw is hopeful his health improves enough to where he can give the Cardinal a boost against the Cougars, who rank 17th nationally in total defense and were top-10 before the loss at Arizona last weekend.
“He feels better this week than he did last week,” Shaw said. “Not necessarily ready to practice I don’t believe today. So he’s still with the training staff and hopefully he can go on Saturday.”
The junior tailback from Wake Forest, N.C., didn’t take a single handoff in Thursday’s game against the Beavers and still came out of the weekend as the country’s leading in rushing yards. Through seven games, he’s amassed 1,387 yards – the fastest player to reach 1,000 in school history – and is still 19 yards ahead of San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny despite playing in two fewer games and taking 74 fewer carries.
Love hasn’t rushed for fewer than 147 rushing yards in a single game this season and without him, the Cardinal only managed 87 – on just three yards per carry – in the game at Oregon State. The Cardinal were in danger of suffering a major upset until Keller Chryst hit JJ Arcega-Whiteside on a 3-yard touchdown fade with 20 seconds to play at Reser Stadium.
Love may have actually catapulted his Heisman stock by sitting out. It was the lowest scoring output for Stanford all season and the Cardinal finished with just 222 yards of total offense.
“He’s a good running back in a conference full of good running backs,” Washington State coach Mike Leach said Monday.
Many would consider Love the top running back talent in the country and nine out of 10 people would peg him as the best in the Pac-12. Leach isn’t among those. The best in his eyes?
“The fella from Oregon State,” Leach said.
He’s referring to Ryan Nall, the rough-and-tumble junior who’s been affectionately nicknamed “Wrecking Nall” by Beaver fans because of his downhill running style. But Nall doesn’t come close to touching any of the cnference’s leading rushers from a statistical standpoint. With 597 yards, he’s still behind Love, Colorado’s Phillip Lindsay (1,254), Oregon’s Royce Freeman (1,096), USC’s Ronald Jones (888) and Washington’s Myles Gaskin (795).
“First of all, he’s big. Second of all, he’s faster than you think. Third of all, he’s very elusive. You’ve got this big chunk of elusive out there,” he said. “The other thing, the guy catches the ball pretty well. The guy blocks pretty good, could block better. … The thing is, everybody in the stadium knows that he’s going to get the ball. There’s no mystery who’s getting the ball there at Oregon State. And it’s not like his supporting cast is like some of the schools in the country. … If you were to somehow magically move all the running backs around the conference, they all got their licks in playing for Washington State, they all got their licks in playing for USC, Cal, Utah, whoever, I think he’s the best one.”