STANFORD — In 2015, Christian McCaffrey established the standard at Stanford with 2,019 rushing yards in a single season.
It was a mark that previously belonged to Toby Gerhart set in 2009, which was challenged by Tyler Gaffney four years later. Ditto for Stepfan Taylor right before that.
Six games into this season, Bryce Love is on pace to shatter the record book with 1,240 yards so far, which already ranks as the seventh-most in program history, surpassing Tommy Vardell and his 1,188 yards in 1991.
But will the heavy workload take a toll the rest of the way?
“Our desire is to keep him fresh during the week and let him play on Saturdays,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “We’ve already kind of started that, monitoring his reps, shaving him on Monday, especially.”
It’s the same approach taken with Love’s predecessors on The Farm, even dating back to Shaw’s days as an assistant coach in the NFL.
“It’s been kind of a blueprint that we’ve augmented throughout the years for Toby, for Stepfan, for Gaffney, just because it makes sense,” Shaw said. “It’s not too different when I was with the Baltimore Ravens and we had Jamal Lewis, who was carrying the ball between 30 and 40 times a game. It’s just about recognizing what the game of football is, which is, it’s a collision sport. And if we can take some off those guys who get the most collisions on game day, it makes us all better.”
• Same goes for the big guys in the trenches: freshman left tackle Walker Little, left guard David Bright, center Jesse Burkett, right guard Nate Herbig and right tackle A.T. Hall.
It’s a group that hasn’t allowed a sack in three straight games, as the offensive line continues to assimilate since shifting Bright to the interior after the loss at USC.
“His versatility really has saved us and it allows us to have a true freshman at left tackle,” Shaw said. “And now you’ve got your fifth-year senior captain right next to your young freshman just to make sure that the communication goes really well. Nate Herbig has really settled in there at right guard. … And A.T. Hall, much more consistent and much better than he was a year ago. He’s really grown.”
So has Burkett, who is almost indispensable for his quarterbacks.
“Jesse is one of those guys up front that you try to use the word brilliant very cautiously, but Jesse is so doggone smart,” Shaw said. “Being able to see things, make calls, in particular the last couple of years with younger and inexperienced quarterbacks. And being able to make sure the protection is going the right way.”
• Right now, the situation under center remains plural, as in quarterbacks — not one, but two.
Keller Chryst got the start at Utah after returning from an undisclosed injury and went 8 of 15 for 131 yards and ran for a 7-yard touchdown. K.J. Costello was 5 of 9 for 57 yards in limited duty.
“I thought both quarterbacks gave us a winning performance,” Shaw said. “I still anticipate Keller Chryst starting. That’s not going to change. He has earned that and deserves that and will play the majority of the football game, but you’ll see K.J. Costello in there.”
The QB carousel didn’t appear to bother the offensive line, which committed just one false start in a hostile atmosphere on Saturday.
“If I’m being completely honest, I don’t even realize half the time when there’s a big change, because I’m so focused on my job and what us five have to take care of up front,” Hall said. “And their cadences aren’t really that different, it’s very uniform in the system that we’re running.”
• Of course, a lot of the time the quarterbacks are simply turning around to hand it off to Love, who had 20 carries for 152 yards, including a 68-yard touchdown — most of it after first contact.
“The best feeling is when you’re playing at home and you make a block, ‘Oh yeah, there’s going to be a big hole here,’ and then you just hear, ‘Aaaahhhh!’ ” said Hall, referring to the roar of the crowd. “And then you take a look and he’s out there, he’s gone. It’s awesome to have somebody back there who will take advantage of the little creases that you give him and be able to do something special with the ball.”
Whether it’s with a stiff arm, hesitation or acceleration, Love manages to create separation from anyone trying to corral him. That includes 25 missed tackles two weeks ago against Arizona State.
“I wish we knew how to coach that,” Shaw said. “Since his freshman year we’ve been saying about him the first guy doesn’t get him. He bounces off the first guy, he runs through the first arm tackle, he makes the first guy miss and some of the first guys don’t even get a chance to touch him. It’s uncanny.”
He added: “And physics-wise, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense. He got hit this past game by a guy that weighs about 240, and the guy bounced off. He shouldn’t bounce off, he just shouldn’t. But sometimes they do.”
If there’s one critique of the Heisman Trophy candidate after the 23-20 victory at Utah, it was the fact he slowed down before crossing the goal line in the fourth quarter, allowing a trailing defender a shot at forcing a fumble.
“Thankfully, quite a few guys on our team got to him before I did,” Shaw said. “But he knew it and didn’t anticipate it, which is always a guy that you don’t see, after he didn’t get tripped up and accelerated and kind of coasted through. We had a very good conversation. I don’t think you’ll see that again from him.”
• Another thing fans won’t see is defensive tackle Harrison Phillips and outside linebacker Peter Kalambayi out on the field in the first half.
Both were ejected in a five-play span late in the fourth quarter for targeting penalties after helmet-to-helmet contact with the Utah quarterback and must sit out until after halftime.
“Both of those calls have to be made in today’s football and I’m good with both of those calls,” Shaw said. “They need to be made, they’re the right calls. We have to continue to emphasize taking our head out of those contacts, in particular on the quarterback and any defenseless player.
“We can’t have our targets that high, we can’t leave our feet, we can’t lead with our head. We have to lead with our shoulders and keep our heads up. All those things that we teach and preach and coach and work on at practice have to continue to show up in the game.
“And I think in the long run we’ve gotten better the last few weeks, but those are two cases where it just takes one split second wrong decision and then you lose two really good football players.”
At outside linebacker, it’s up to sophomore Curtis Robinson and redshirt sophomore Casey Toohill to fill the void opposite fifth-year senior Mike Tyler, with the option to throw in redshirt freshman Jordan Fox.
“So at least we’ll be two deep on both sides, still,” Shaw said. “We’ll be able to rotate and play those guys. Inside a little bit more thin.”
In the trenches, redshirt freshman Jovan Swann has shown glimpses of his potential in the past couple of games, while the roles of fellow redshirt freshman Michael Williams and Thomas Schaffer are expected to increase.
JUST FOR KICKS: While Love ranks second in the nation with 10.5 yards per rush, he is also second on the team. Punter Jake Bailey doesn’t qualify to rank nationally, but his only rush went for 17 yards on a fake punt.
“I feel honored,” Bailey said when asked how he feels about leading the Cardinal in the category. “It’s pretty funny. I don’t know, maybe we’ll see another one this year.”
As to how Bailey ended up punting in the Pac-12, it’s a choice that didn’t belong to him, but rather special teams coordinator Pete Alamar, who joined the staff in 2012.
“Coach Alamar kind of made the decision for me,” Bailey said. “This was back as a senior in high school. I went to their Stanford specialist camp every single year and I was trying to be a kicker as well as just sort of being a punter, because it makes you more projectable.
“And I did kicking at the camp, did punting, did kickoffs. And after the camp, Coach Alamar said, ‘You know you’re going to be a punter in college.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, OK. Whatever, I believe you.’ And then the next day he called and gave me a scholarship. I was all on board to be a punter then.”
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