Stanford Cardinal v #20 Utah Utes
Saturday, October 7, 2017, 10:15 p.m. ET
Rice-Eccles Stadium – Salt Lake City, Utah
Stanford (23), Utah (20)
1. Bryce Love – the real deal
This was my first in-depth look at Love since he took college football by storm with his jaw-dropping start to the 2017 season, and I cam away very impressed. Utah has one of the best defenses in the country and consistently loaded the box to slow down Love, but the Stanford runner welcomed the physical challenge, running hard between the tackles despite being just 195 pounds. Love’s vision as a zone runner is his biggest strength, as he consistently finds cutback lanes and gets vertical. Two of his biggest runs came on one-cut-and-go plays, as Love adeptly found a crease and showed the burst to explode through to the second level. And he can run, man.
If there’s a knock on Love, it’s that he isn’t ideally sized, but the junior continues to show that he’s as physical as he is elusive, running through several bigger defenders for chunk plays in the first half. At one point in the first half, Love took a huge shot from a safety coming full speed downhill, but while the hit bounced him back, he kept his balance before being gang-tackled.
Love also stood out in pass protection, where he consistently eliminated late blitzers by standing up and stoning them or cutting their legs. In a game like this, where Utah set out defensively with the sole purpose of stopping Love, it was huge that the back was able to contribute as a blocker against a team that blitzes as often as the Utes. Despite the ridiculous attention in the box, Love was still able to rip off three explosive runs to finish with 20 carries for 152 yards and a touchdown. Would you believe me if I told you that’s statistically his worst game of the season? What an incredible year he’s having.
2. Stanford defense is fast!
Stanford typically has strong defenses, but this might be the most athletic group I’ve seen there. Defensive ends Eric Cotton and Peter Kalambayi were active all night with pressures, and the latter even got a cleanup sack. That sack came courtesy of linebacker Bobby Okereke, who was all over the field in a dominant showing of physicality and closing burst to the ball Saturday night. Okereke needs to throttle down and finish, as his final stat line of five tackles and a sack could have been far more impressive if he were a bit more disciplined. Nevertheless, the senior looks like a raw talent that could test extremely well at the combine and fly up boards.
3. Different nights for Stanford corners
The Cardinals have two quality cornerback prospects in Alijah Holder and Quenton Meeks, but the former struggled last night while the latter had some nice moments. Holder committed two pass interference penalties and gave up a couple catches, struggling with his back to the ball. He was also run through as a tackler on at least one occasion, capping an all-around rough night for the senior corner.
Meeks is the more heralded of the two players, and showed why during a strong night in coverage. He’s at his best in press situations, as Meeks can struggle to click-and-close from off coverage. He pulled off an impressive interception off a tipped ball, and generally seemed to blanket his assignment most of the night. Meeks isn’t a first round prospect on my board currently, but he has the size and athleticism to move up boards for NFL teams.
4. Darren Carrington emerges late
Carrington is a gliding, one-speed receiver without great burst or twitch to his game, but he did emerge in the second half to finish with seven catches for 99 yards and a touchdown. I don’t see high-end explosive traits when I watch him, but Carrington does seem to finish well at the catch point despite his lanky frame. Carrington will have to answer for a long list of off-the-field concerns that forced him to transfer from Oregon, but he has some traits that could interest teams as a mid-late round pick.
5. Utah safety Marquise Blair – added to watch list
Blair was suspended the first half because of a targeting penalty the week before, but he came out hitting in the second half, showing ridiculous closing burst to the football and the range to make plays all over the field. He flew downhill to knock Love back several yards on one play, showing the presence of mind and processing speed to make a sound fill against the run. Later he flew up from across the field to drop a Stanford receiver running after the catch, delivering a big shot around his ribs. I have never heard of Blair before tonight, but after watching his play speed, physicality, tackling and size (6-2, 190) on display against a quality opponent, I’m excited to add the junior Dodge City Community College transfer to the watch list.