Bryce Love made his mark on the Stanford football season by making a mistake, and then made something out of it.
Love, a highly regarded freshman running back out of North Carolina, made a dramatic impression in last Saturday's 31-7 victory over Central Florida, accumulating 143 all-purpose yards a week after losing two yards on his only carry of the season-opening loss at Northwestern.
His teammates can only hope Love can continue the success when the Cardinal (1-1) travels to the Los Angeles Coliseum for its Pac-12 opener against sixth-ranked USC (2-0) on Saturday at 5 p.m. (ABC)
Love actually carried the ball only once against the Knights, and it was unscripted. His timing was off and he was late in going into motion on the 'Wildcat,' a play designed for a direct snap to a running back. Quarterback Kevin Hogan was lined up wide as a receiver.
Sophomore Christian McCaffrey was supposed to take the snap. Love got in the way and had to handle the ball when it hit off his helmet. Everybody else in the stadium saw it as a successful, if somewhat risky, play.
"Love stole the ball," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "The ball hit him in the helmet and he took it and made a positive. It was unintentional."
That play occurred midway through the first quarter. As a result, Shaw and the Cardinal coaching staff added a play to the game plan at halftime. It worked better than anticipated.
Hogan threw a screen pass from deep in Stanford territory that Love turned into a 93-yard touchdown.
"It's a roll of the dice," Shaw said. "If he gets a lane to run, it's great."
Senior receiver Devon Cajuste (6-4, 227) and left tackle Kyle Murphy (6-7, 301) executed blocks that gave Love his lane. Love made the Knights' safety miss and it was a race to the goal line.
"We've always had speed but Bryce Love is something special," Cardinal cornerback Ronnie Harris said. "Sweet Feet, that's my nickname for him, has something different to him. He can change gears rapidly and can get into defense's heads because of his quick feet."
McCaffrey, who put together another nice outing with 166 all-purpose yards, including 58 rushing and 59 receiving, also has the ability to make people miss. The combination should only make Stanford's offense that much more effective.
Love's emergence -- he caught two passes for 135 yards -- comes at the right time. He helped Hogan throw for a career-high 341 yards. That more than doubled his output from the Wildcats loss, in which the Cardinal failed to score a touchdown.
Hogan threw for three touchdowns, did not throw an interception and was not sacked all the things that were troublesome in the loss.
The Trojans, meanwhile, are loaded with speed, none more exciting than Adoree Jackson, listed as USC's starting cornerback and top return man, but also the No. 2 receiver at a position that goes eight deep on the Trojans' depth chart.
"That guy is pretty rare to do what he can do on both sides of the ball," Shaw said. "There's a rare quality to him and he's only going to get better. He's an exciting football player."
The Trojans are also deep at running back, with senior Tre Madden the starter, followed by six others. USC has three rushers averaging at least 71 yards a game. Madden has three touchdowns, Ronald Jones II, who averages 84.5 yards a game, and Justin Davis have each scored twice.
In addition to a running game that averages 234.5 yards a game and has eight touchdowns, Cody Kessler leads an aerial attack that is producing 388.5 yards a game and seven touchdowns.
In contrast, the Cardinal averages 107.5 rushing yards and 258 passing yards and has scored four times.
"They are bigger up front on both lines," Shaw said. "Kessler is a better athlete than people give him credit for. He throws great on the run and he throws accurately."
An inexperienced secondary will be challenged.
"Every Saturday is a challenge and this week will be an extraordinary challenge," Harris said. "Kessler has a big arm, a great release and reads well with his eyes. The level of urgency we feel is now we're in the Pac-12."
Harris, Kodi Whitfield and Dallas Lloyd are seniors, but first-year starters. Sophomore Alijah Holder is seeing his first action and sophomore Terrence Alexander averaged a tackle a game last year.
Backups include senior Ra'Chard Pippens, sophomores Alameen Murphy ad Brandon Simmons and freshmen Justin Reid, Ben Edwards and Quinton Meeks.
"We have young guys back there and we need to help them grow as fast as possible and get them to play as a unit," Shaw said. "We need to know where the help is, and the help has to be there. This is a big team defense game."
Saturday's game marks the 93rd meeting between Stanford and USC. In a series that dates to 1905, the Trojans lead the all-time series, 60-29-3. Stanford's four-game win streak from 2009-12 was its longest in the series.