Sun Devils can't keep up with Stanford's Bryce Love in 34-24 road loss

Jeffrey Griffith, Staff
ASU Devils

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

STANFORD, Calif.-- It took all of 93 seconds for Arizona State to experience the wrath of the nation's leading rusher, Bryce Love.

Love's first two positive carries - both long touchdown runs - set the tone for a Stanford offense that outmatched the visiting Sun Devils in a 34-24 Cardinal victory Saturday afternoon at Stanford Stadium.

"They were better team today," head coach Todd Graham said. "They played more disciplined. I was proud of how our guys fought, we just made too many mistakes."

For all intents and purposes, the Sun Devils (2-3, 1-1 Pac-12) played an admirable game on the road, particularly in the first half, after which they trailed by a score.

But an inability to keep Love from breaking key explosive plays - and breaking Christian McCaffrey's single-game school rushing record - ultimately doomed ASU in its first Pac-12 road game.

"The guy's really hard to tackle," Graham said. "Every play he broke, we had someone there unblocked and couldn't tackle him. You've got to give him a lot of credit, he's very, very good."

"He's a great back, he runs hard," senior defensive lineman Tashon Smallwood added. "Man, he runs hard. All glory to him, he did his thing. He's good at getting in the creases, he's patient, he sees the hole and he bursts."

On the game's opening drive, the Cardinal (3-2, 2-0 Pac-12) unleashed Love for a 61-yard score to open up a 7-0 advantage. Following a stalled ASU possession, it looked as though Stanford would break its lead open to 14 points just ten minutes into the game.

A key fumble forced and recovered by senior defensive back J’Marcus Rhodes saved what was set to be a disappointing first quarter, allowing the Sun Devils’ offense to take over and find some rhythm.

"j'Marcus did a great job of stripping that," Graham mentioned.

The result was a 32-yard field goal by freshman Brandon Ruiz to cut the Stanford lead to four.

But Bryce Love, once again, made his presence felt soon after, with a 43-yard scamper to break the 100-yard mark for the fifth time in as many games.

On its next position, Love put Stanford in position for another touchdown with two carries totaling 54 yards setting up for a 12-yard passing score from sophomore quarterback K.J. Costello to junior receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.

Nonetheless, ASU kept close, entering the break down 24-17.

Eight minutes into the ensuing half, Love gave Stanford the spark it needed to finally break things open, with a 59-yard carry resulting in a two-possession lead.

"Coming into halftime I thought, 'Man, we're going to get the ball, go down and tie this thing up," Graham said. "He's a really special guy, he's very difficult to tackle."

Ultimately, the Sun Devils simply couldn't keep pace with Love's 301 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries.

By the time the second half rolled around, ASU offensively had lost all of the momentum and rhythm it built up in the opening 30 minutes.

A lackluster game for Manny Wilkins - who completed 15 of his 24 attempts for 181 yards and threw his first two interceptions of the year - reached its lowest point in the third quarter when he threw his second pick of the game following Love's third touchdown run.

"Turnovers were the difference," Graham said. "We're moving the ball right almost to midfield and then we throw an interception on first down. That was a huge play in the game."

Following the game, Wilkins firmly expressed responsibility for his costly mistakes.

"I've just got to put us in a better situation to score points," he said. "Obviously, I didn't play my best game, and I didn't give us an opportunity to win this football game, so I take full accountability for that."

After putting up 17 points in the first half thanks to an impressive performance on the ground and a bit of trickery in the form of a touchdown pass thrown by sophomore receiver N'Keal Harry, the Sun Devils picked up just one first down in the third period.

In a broader sense, the improved rushing by ASU was one of a few positives to takeaway from Saturday's defeat.

Senior running back Demario Richard led the way with 80 yards on 22 carries, while senior Kalen Ballage and sophomore receiver Kyle Williams combined for another 125 yards.

Particularly by way of the run game, the Sun Devils showed some life in the fourth quarter, piecing together a 10-play, 86-yard touchdown drive to pull within seven.

Fittingly, though, Love answered with 63 yards on the ensuing 71-yard Stanford drive to help the Cardinal put things out of reach on a 22-yard field goal with 2:26 to go.

"At the end of the day, we gave up too many big plays in the run game, you can't give up that many yards rushing and have a chance," Graham said. "On the same hand, we should score a heck of a lot more than 24 points."

The focus for ASU now shifts to a bye week, where several of the most notable issues from Saturday's loss will be addressed. Then, arguably the Sun Devils' most difficult test of the season heads to Tempe in the form of the defending Pac-12 champion, No. 6 Washington.

For now, Graham is just taking it in stride.

"We're 1-1,” Graham said. "And there's a lot of football left to play. We get an off week, and then we get a great opportunity to come back home and play a top-five team in the country."

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