Before we begin: Bryce Love is an amazing running back for Stanford. He plays in a system that leans on power running, athletic line play, and repeated applications of both to opposing defenses. In just five games, he is averaging 217 yards a game, has over a thousand yards already, and on average will get you eleven yards every time he touches the ball. Stanford has somehow lost two games already, which means they foolishly did not give Bryce Love the ball on every offensive snap.
Stop being foolish, Stanford, and give the ball to Bryce Love on every snap.
That said: Stanford got to face Arizona State, a team as consistently bad against the run over the last two years as anyone in football. When analysts try to promote a matchup, they rarely say “LET’S SEE WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE MOVABLE OBJECT MEETS THE IRRESISTIBLE FORCE”, but that’s exactly what happened here.
This is what happens when you have the worst combination of all strengths and weaknesses meeting on a single play.
Stanford is one of our most viewer-friendly football teams, offensively speaking. Everyone’s easily in frame a lot of the time, via the Cardinal’s preference for bunching up as many blockers in a small space as possible. Please note that in this formation, there’s easily 1100 pounds of blocker on the right side to start. Stanford really doesn’t care whether you noticed that, by the way: They’re going to show that no matter what, and probably tell you what’s happening pre-snap if you ask nicely enough.
This is a run play that uses power blocking, aka God’s Play, aka “Dave”, aka a thousand different variations on sealing the backside away from the flow of the run, pulling a guard from that same side, and blasting that guard through the hole—often working off the fullback’s lead block— to free up space for the running back. There are much better, clearer explanations than we can offer here, and you should read them.
What you need to know is that this is church, run game-wise, and Stanford is preaching while standing right on the rock. It’s super-fundamental basic football, but they are also working in some cool little wrinkles here. The most shocking is the quarterback, K.J. Costello, throwing a block on the backside of the play. Don’t quibble too much with the term here: Costello sort of just forearm shivers the onrushing Sun Devil, but a man on the ground is a man on the ground no matter how you did it.
There’s also a neat little toss action, if your quarterback throwing a block on a run play wasn’t odd enough for you.
And if you’re not Tony Romo, and are the kind of person who has a hard time pre-snap discerning what’s going to happen like the rest of us, then at the very least you could probably tell about one second post-snap that things were going very badly for Arizona State here.
Only one man on the entire Sun Devil defense beats their block: linebacker DJ Calhoun. For that achievement, Calhoun gets the privilege of overrunning Bryce Love, and watching the rest of the play from behind the action, because even in beating a block he still got knocked off path by the fullback and pulling guard. PLEASE: find #64 in this picture, and note that he has no one to block or dance with or hug.
He’s lonely. Watch just how lonely he is, and feel for him.
Here’s the magnificent thing that happens when bad run defense meets good run blocking and a blip-fast running back. See #64? Stanford cleared decks so effectively, and Arizona State was so ineffective at penetrating and disrupting the play, that the pulling guard on a power play hit green grass without so much as a safety to chip.
Add in Bryce Love being so fast that he has DBs even at ten yards past the line of scrimmage, and the spacing for the play blows up in Arizona State’s face before they can even blink. Even at ten yards with Bryce Love is flailing behind at 15 yards; at 20 yards, it’s waving forlornly at him like he’s running for the sunset, destined never to return.
The lessons are a.) run Power, b.) play Arizona State if you run Power well, and c.) Bryce Love can turn a ten yard run into a damn near sixty yard run if you let him. You probably shouldn’t let him, but that’s the whole point of power football done well: Taking every choice from the opponent except “get punched in the teeth” away from them, and seeing how they react.