COUGARS' OPPONENT: Stanford's tense game against Beavers proved the value of Love

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PULLMAN - Another season, another Stanford tailback contending for the Heisman Trophy.

It happens so often that you begin to wonder if the real award-winner is the Cardinal's offensive line, together with their old-school but effective offensive philosophy.

Then, typically, the running back in question does something dazzling.

Or, in this, case, doesn't.

Last week at Corvallis, Ore., Bryce Love basically illustrated his immense value to Stanford by not taking the field. Hobbled by an ankle injury, the nation's top rusher watched the Cardinal's offense go moribund for 58 minutes before improbably getting its act together and pulling out a 15-14 win.

Love is considered questionable as the No. 18 Cardinal (6-2, 5-1) face No. 25 Washington State (7-2, 4-2) in a key Pac-12 game Saturday (12:30 p.m., FOX) at Pullman.

Love, running second to third this week in the major Heisman projections, is stylistically different from Stanford predecessors Toby Gerhart and Christian McCaffrey, who both finished runner-up in the voting for college football's grandest individual prize. Gerhart in particular personified the bruiser mentality that Stanford's traditional power game represents.

Love is tough in his own way, but mainly he exploits rather than embodies that bruiser mentality. At 5-foot-10 and 196 pounds, boasting 4.3 speed in the 40-yard dash, he bursts through narrow seams and is generally uncatchable in the open field.

On average, he gets a first down every time he touches the ball, and his per-game average is 2 yards shy of 200. Through five games this season, his ground yardage was setting the fourth-highest pace in FBS history. He went off for 301 yards against Arizona State.

No wonder the Cardinal offense was lost without him in Corvallis.

"No question," Stanford coach David Shaw said when asked if Love's absence proved his value. "I do believe we have (other) talented backs. I do believe our backs can play better than they played a week ago.

"But that's been Bryce all year. If it's down to one guy and making a guy miss, he's been able to do that. He's been able to turn a 4-yard gain into a 60-yard touchdown. We miss that aspect of our offense."

Shaw said Tuesday that Love's availability in Pullman will be a game-day decision. But since he was saying the same thing last week, up until 90 minutes before kickoff, it seems likely the junior tailback is well on his way to recovery.

One man who seemed dearly to miss Love last week was senior quarterback Keller Chryst, who passed only 16-for-33 for 141 yards and an interception. On message boards, disgruntled Stanford fans excoriated Shaw for not benching Chryst in favor of sophomore K.J. Costello, considered a star waiting to shine.

Shaw said his gut advised him to stick with Chryst, though he didn't rule out starting Costello against WSU.

The Cardinal avoided an embarrassing loss to the benighted Beavers largely because fabulous defensive tackle Harrison Phillips helped force, then recovered, a fumble by Ryan Nall with 21/2 minutes left.

Chryst completed a fourth-and-10 pass to tight end Kaden Smith, then tossed a 3-yarder to JJ Arcega-Whiteside for the winning touchdown with 20 seconds left.

"Offensively we didn't play well," Shaw said. "But when it was time to make some plays to win the game, we made the plays to win the game."

The Cardinal's heroics, just like their struggles, probably helped Love's cause in the Heisman race. Voters tend to turn away if your team loses to Oregon State.

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Grummert may be contacted at daleg@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2290.

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