Christian McCaffrey was a massive loss for the Stanford Cardinal offense. There’s no doubt about it. But Bryce Love is making the loss a little more palatable for Stanford coaches and fans, as the true junior has been a dominant force for the Cardinal run game. He’s averaged over 215 rushing yards per game through 5 weeks of the season, and his worst yards per carry game was 8.8 against UCLA, where he rushed for the second most yards in Stanford history with 263….at the time. His most recent performance against Arizona State (301 yards on 25 carries) now holds the one spot, pushing his UCLA game down a measly third all time.
Turn on the tape of Love and you’ll see a decisive, powerful and explosive athlete. However, the thing that sticks out the most on almost every carry of his is speed. It’s not just long speed that makes Love pop off the screen, it’s burst and speed at all levels of the field that get you excited about what the future holds for Love in the Pac-12 and the NFL.
First Step Speed
For this first play, we’ll go back to Stanford’s 2016 bowl game against North Carolina (which McCaffrey sat out of) to see Love’s quickness on his first step.
Facing a 1st and 10 at their own 41, Stanford will run power right up the middle, with the right guard and right tackle pulling to lead block in the left A-gap. Love (#20) is in the shotgun, to quarterback Keller Chryst’s right. He’ll take the handoff and follow the right tackle up the middle.
Keep an eye on Love right after getting the ball. Defensive tackle Nazair Jones (#90) will get immediate penetration as Stanford looks to trap block him with the right guard. He dives and tries to slow Love up before he can get his run started.
It doesn’t work.
Love is able to take the ball and go from a near standstill to a quick acceleration upfield on a dime. He pulls well away from Jones and bangs forward for a gain of 6 on the play.
The burst and speed off his first step was well on display here against UNC, but there’s a lot more to Love’s game than just that.
Speed Through the Hole
Not only can Love accelerate the second he touches the ball, he can also turn the jets on as he hits the hole.
This play against USC from Week 2 of 2017 shows him flying through the hole the offensive line opens up. Love will follow RT Devery Hamilton (#74) through the right B-gap. First though, he looks to the left side of the line before cutting back to the right side behind Hamilton.
Here, Love’s speed isn’t on display until he cuts to his right and decides on the hole he’ll take. However, once he finds his spot, he sticks his foot in the ground and absolutely explodes through the hole. His speed into the second level is too much for USC cornerback Iman Marshall (#8) to make the tackle, and Love pinballs forward for a gain of 20 yards.
It’s an incredible display of burst through the hole, a key trait when evaluating running backs to make the jump to the next level. Well, Bryce Love certainly checks that box.
Second Level Speed
The next thing to watch with Love’s speed is his ability at the second level. Give him some space at linebacker depth and he can gain yards that few backs can.
This example is again from the USC game, this time on a toss sweep play. The LG and FB will be lead blocking for Love to the boundary side of the field.
Love has a good run here all around, making a nice decision to cut back inside and get vertical, doing so near effortlessly. But the really impressive aspect of this run comes around the 17 yard line, when Love clears the offensive and defensive lines and hits a path of open space. He flips the jets on for just a split second to force USC defenders to chase him rather than tackle him at the spot. He drags two defenders all the way down to the goal line.
The last, and most noticeable, type of speed Love puts on film is his breakaway and long speed. He’s consistently able to pull away from defenders and make big plays for the Stanford offense.
One more time from the USC game, and on another toss play, Love shows off his athleticism. This is an interior toss play, with the RG pulling to the left C-gap with the added blocker of FB Daniel Marx (#35) out in front of the play. Here, Love’s burst through the hole is evident once again, but watch his sustained speed all the way down the field. He completely outstrips the defensive backfield of the Trojans enroute to a 75 yard touchdown run.
Bryce Love. Pure speed.