Sports

Stanford putting it all on the line for Love

 
A.T. Hall signals a touchdown for Bryce Love. Photo by Jim Shorin/isiphotos.com.

Stanford senior right tackle A.T. Hall can usually tell how well a football play succeeded just by the crowd's reaction. It's even better when he looks up to see Bryce Love running away from the defense on another one of his long touchdown runs.

Hall is part of the reason Love leads the nation in rushing. He and his offensive line teammates have given Love many avenues for success.

"The best feeling at the line is to make a block, create a hole and look up to see he's gone," Hall said.

Run blocking has been Stanford's strength all year. The past three games, the Cardinal (4-2, 3-1) have not given up a sack. The line, which includes true freshman Walker Little at left tackle, hopes to keep that streak alive this week when Oregon (4-2, 1-2) visits for an 8 p.m. kickoff Saturday, highlighting reunion homecoming week.

"We've put more emphasis on it," Hall said. "We went back to basics and restarted from step one. We've been clean every since."

The improvement aided K.J. Costello in his first career start and helped Palo Alto grad Keller Chryst in his return in Stanford's 23-20 Pac-12 win at Utah last week.

Chryst will start against the Ducks and get the majority of the playing time, though Cardinal coach David Shaw said Costello will play.

Shaw is also impressed with his offensive line and hopes it continues its upward climb.

"They have improved every single week since USC," Shaw said. "They're better and more comfortable. We have a true freshman at left tackle and he doesn't play like a freshman. He plays older. There's a fifth-year senior (David Bright) next to him who can help with communication. We have a senior at center (Jesse Burkett), a sophomore at right guard (Nate Herbig) who plays above his age and a senior (Hall) at right tackle. Bright's versatility has helped."

Bright's move to the left side allowed Hall to play on the right side, something that gives Stanford more experience upfront.

"Bright helped stabilize the line," Shaw said. "It's a group that has been through a lot and has seen a lot."

In a conference known for its quarterbacks, Pac-12 running backs may be getting overlooked. Love, who leads the nation with 1,240 rushing yards, helps guide the spotlight. But so do backs like Colorado's Phillip Lindsay, fifth in the nation with 810 yards and Oregon's Royce Freeman, 13th with 654 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Freeman had a golden opportunity to skip his senior year and enter the NFL draft.

"I'm not too happy he passed on that," Shaw said. "He's physical. He has the ability to get tough yards and to break long runs. I was hoping he would come to us or somewhere far away."

The Pac-12 has five running backs among the top 21. Washington's Myles Gaskin ranks 19th and USC's Ronald Jones is 21st.

Quarterbacks still run the conference. UCLA's Josh Rosen leads the nation in passing yards and Washington State's Luke Falk is third. USC's Sam Darnold, Colorado's Steven Montz, Washington's Jake Browning and ASU's Manny Wilkins are all ranked among the top 30.

Shaw thinks Chryst ranks right there with them.

"On third down, he made some big-time throws to Trent Irwin," he said. "Those were big-time completions; NFL completions."

Currently on a three-game winning streak, it's important for Stanford to continue playing well if it has designs on reaching on the Pac-12 championship game.

After Oregon, the Cardinal plays at Oregon State and at Washington State. The eighth-ranked Cougars (6-0, 3-0) and the fifth-ranked Huskies (6-0, 3-0) remain the elite of the conference.

Jake Bailey, who executed a perfect fake punt and raced 17 yards for a first down, said he wouldn't mind doing that again.

"It's been six or seven years since we've called a fake punt," Bailey said. "It was so much fun for me to make that play. I hope we don't want that long to run another one."

Stanford special teams coordinator Pete Alamer gently guided Bailey into becoming a punter.

"I attended all the special teams camps at Stanford and thought I wanted to kick and punt," Bailey said. "After the last one, coach Alamer came up to me and said 'You know you're going to be a punter in college don't you?' A few days later I got an offer."

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