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Rice-Eccles Stadium, Salt Lake City, Utah Attendance: 45,991
Stanford's Love looms for No. 20 Utah
SALT LAKE CITY -- Can any defense stop Bryce Love?
That's the question No. 20 Utah will try to answer when it hosts Stanford on Saturday. The Utes (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) will send out the Pac-12's top rushing defense against the nation's top running back. If Utah finds a way to contain the junior, it will be mapping uncharted territory.
Replacing Christian McCaffrey turned out to be easier than expected for the Cardinal (3-2, 2-1 Pac-12) this season. Love has shredded every defense he's faced. He became the first 1,000-yard rusher in the FBS this season after churning out 301 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries in a 34-24 win over Arizona State on Saturday.
Love's 301 rushing yards broke a single-game Stanford rushing record held by Christian McCaffrey. It is also the eighth-best single-game rushing total in Pac-12 history.
"I'm not saying he's the best one that's been through here, I'm not starting that argument," Stanford coach David Shaw said after the win over the Sun Devils. "But, at the same time, I've never seen anything like what happened today. That was unbelievable."
No defense has been able to figure out a scheme for slowing down Love. The 5-foot-10 back has totaled 1,088 yards on just 98 carries. That translates to an eye-popping 11.1 yards per carry.
In the span five games, Love has gone from a change-of-pace back to a serious Heisman Trophy contender. He has a mix of power and speed most other running backs can only dream about.
"I'm definitely not the biggest guy out there and, for sure, it's easy to overlook it, I feel like," Love said. "But I take pride in being able to go out there and make those types of plays and being able to pick up the yards after contact."
One key for Utah's defense will be keeping Love from getting chunk plays. The Utes allow just 87.0 rushing yards per game, but they haven't dealt with a back of Love's caliber yet.
The junior has had a scoring run of at least 50 yards in seven consecutive games. He broke away for touchdown runs of 61 and 59 yards against Arizona State. Utah will need to be sound in controlling run gaps and matching the physicality of Love as a runner.
"You've got to gang tackle this kid," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "He's not going to go down with an arm tackle. He's a very physical runner relative to his size."
What the Utes will bring to the table offensively on Saturday could be more of a mystery.
Starting quarterback Tyler Huntley left with a shoulder injury in the second quarter against Arizona two weeks ago. Troy Williams came on in relief of Huntley and steered the Utes to a 30-24 win over the Wildcats in their Pac-12 opener. The senior threw for 131 yards on 9-of-18 passing over 2 1/2 quarters.
Whittingham said Huntley is still being evaluated and declined to say which quarterback would start against Stanford.
Huntley won the starting job from Williams in fall camp and has been instrumental in Utah's early success. The sophomore immediately made the most of the opportunity to lead an offense.
Huntley has accounted for more than 66 percent of Utah's total offense through four games, producing 1,174 of the team's 1,771 total yards. His accuracy in the pass game has been superb. Through four games, Huntley has completed 88 of 120 pass attempts. His completion percentage (73.3) ranks fifth in the FBS.
Williams lacks the same level of mobility as Huntley but has proven playmaking abilities.
"He's a very capable runner," Whittingham said. "He would rather beat you with his arm than his legs, but he can certainly pull the ball down for designed QB runs."
Williams, a senior captain, already spent a year as Utah's starting quarterback. He threw for 2,757 yards and 15 touchdowns while completing 53 percent of his passes a year ago.
Spending time as a backup quarterback again, Williams said, taught him how to be a pro and be patient while working to get another chance to prove himself.
"Whenever you get put in a position like that, you just want to stay positive and just continue to work as hard as you can," Williams said.
Stanford and Utah are meeting for the first time since 2014. The Utes lead the series 4-3 and have beaten the Cardinal twice since joining the Pac-12. Utah claimed the lone home win for either team in the series in 2013 when the Utes upset No. 5 Stanford 27-21.
Updated October 3, 2017