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Fork Report: ASU falls behind Love’s record-setting performance

Stanford running back Bryce Love, left, runs for a touchdown past Arizona State defensive back Demonte King (28) during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017, in Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

With all apologies to Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, college football’s best ball carrier does not reside in the east or in the Big 10. No, that player can be found out west and in the Pac-12, specifically at Stanford. And if there is any argument, just ask Arizona State for its opinion.

Bryce Love gashed the Sun Devils defense for a single-game school-record 301 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns in Stanford’s 34-24 victory on Saturday afternoon.

His efforts pushed him over 1,000 rushing yards on the season.

Love carried the ball 25 times, averaging 12 yards a touch. He scored on runs of 61, 43 and 59; the latter handed the Cardinal a 31-17 lead in the third quarter, their largest advantage in the game.

Stanford (3-2, 1-2) never trailed.

ASU (2-3, 1-1) had its own success running the football with a season-best 214 yards. Demario Richard accounted for 80 yards and two touchdowns. But, obviously, not nearly enough, not when facing the nation’s leading rusher. Love entered the game averaging 196.7 yards per game.

The Sun Devils battled but never got to within a field goal.

Manny Wilkins struggled throwing the football. In fact, he was intercepted twice, the first time he’s been picked off all season. Wilkins finished 15-of-24 for 181 yards and no touchdowns.

The Sun Devils have now lost nine straight conference road games and six in a row overall, dating back to last season.

THE GOOD

It took until the fifth game of the season, but the Sun Devils finally recorded their first rush of 30-plus yards. It came on ASU’s second possession and no it wasn’t by Richard or Kalen Ballage but Kyle Williams. Yes, Kyle Williams, the wide receiver. He ran 49 yards around the left edge with Wilkins blocking downfield. By comparison, Love entered the game with five rushes of 50-plus yards.

Against the conference’s 10th-best rushing defense, the Sun Devils had little trouble running on Stanford in the first half. After Richard scored on a three-yard run out of the ‘Sparky’ set in the second quarter, ASU had gained 136 yards on 26 carries with Richard accounting for 55 yards. At halftime, the Sun Devils had rushed 29 times for 161 yards, well above their season average of 108.3 yards per game.

Going deep into the playbook, the Sun Devils used some razzle-dazzle to score its second touchdown of the second quarter. Three plays after N’Keal Harry caught a 21-yard pass on a flea-flicker, he threw a 14-yard touchdown pass to C.J French-Love out of the ‘Sparky’ set. French-Love was wide open on a play that converted a 3rd-and-4 and pulled the Sun Devils to 21-17 at the 1:33 mark of the period.

THE BAD

Twice in the first quarter the Sun Devils drove inside the Stanford 30, yet came away with only a field goal. First, Wilkins was sacked on 3rd-and-7, taking a 12-yard loss and pushing the Sun Devils out of field goal range. Then, facing a 1st-and-goal at the 5, the Sun Devils went backwards on back-to-back plays: Richard tackled for a four-yard loss and Wilkins sacked for a loss of eight. Ruiz booted a 32-yard field to trim the Stanford lead, 7-3, with 45 seconds left in the period.

All streaks end eventually. And Wilkins’ consecutive pass attempts without an interception ended in the second quarter. On a ball that was tipped at the line of scrimmage, Wilkins was picked off by Justin Reid. Two plays later, Love scored his second first-half touchdown, a 43-yard run, to put Stanford ahead, 14-3, at the 13:22 mark of the period. Dating back to 2016, Wilkins went 192 straight passes (144 this season, second-longest nationally) without an interception, setting a new school record.

In all five games now this season, the Sun Devils defense has allowed points in the final minute of the second quarter. The latest, a 21-yard field goal as the first half expired to push Stanford’s lead to 24-17. On the drive, which began at the 35 after Ruiz kicked the ball out of bounds, the Cardinal completed passes of 22 and 40 yards. Going back to the season opener against New Mexico State, opponents have scored three touchdowns and two field goals just prior to halftime.

Looking at the third-quarter numbers, it appeared the Sun Devils never exited the locker room after halftime. The offense ran 13 plays for a grand total of 34 yards and one first down over four possessions, one fewer than they had the entire first half. Even worse, Wilkins was intercepted for the second time and the second time by Reid. Also, Love scored his third touchdown, running untouched 59 yards to top 200 rushing yards for the game and 1,000 rushing yards for the season.

STAT OF THE GAME

5: Love had five runs of 30-plus yards (61, 43, 39, 59 and 31)

HE SAID IT

“The difference in the game was Love and his big plays,” head coach Todd Graham said. “Too many just one-play runs. We were just missing tackles, just uncontested.”

NOTED

Five times now the Sun Devils have switched out their punt returner mid-game: Ryan Newsome replaced Chase Lucas

WR Curtis Hodges made his debut midway through the fourth quarter becoming the ninth true freshman to play this year

OL Zach Robertson started at right tackle; two weeks ago against Texas Tech, he received the start over at left tackle

CB Joey Bryant, who had started three of the first four games of the season, was unavailable for undisclosed reasons

LB Koron Crump, WR John Humphrey missed their second and third straight games, respectively, with left knee injuries

Offensive coordinator Billy Napier rejoined the team following the death of his father; the funeral was Friday in Georgia

ASU and Stanford raised awareness for domestic and sexual violence with #SetTheExpectation ribbons on the helmets

UP NEXT

The Sun Devils have next weekend off; it’s their one and only bye week of the season.

ASU will be in action again when they host Washington on Saturday, Oct. 14. Kickoff has yet to be determined, but once it’s scheduled, pregame coverage will begin two hours earlier on 98.7 FM, Arizona’s Sports Station.

The Sun Devils have not lost to Washington at home since 2002, winning six straight games. Washington’s most recent victory at Sun Devil Stadium came in 2001. And they did beat ASU a year ago—44-18, which snapped a 10-game losing streak in the series—on their way to the College Football Playoffs.

Overall, ASU leads 19-15, including 12-7 at home, in a series that dates back to 1975.

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