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Opponent Preview: Stanford’s Offense

NCAA Football: Stanford at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

It should come as no surprise that the heart of Stanford’s offense is senior running back, Bryce Love. Over 27% of Stanford’s offensive plays this season have wound up in Love’s hands, which makes his questionable status going into this week’s matchup with Utah that much more important. Without Love, Stanford’s offense is still formidable with plenty of weapons, but a healthy Love is nearly impossible to contain for a full four quarters. Regardless of who lines up in the backfield, Utah’s defense will need to continue their dominating ways if there’s any hope for a victory on the road.

​The likely leader of Stanford’s offense in Love’s absence will be junior quarterback, KJ Costello. In his second year under center, Costello looks more comfortable in the pocket than he did in 2017, and through five games, he’s statistically better than he was last season. Currently, Costello’s completion rate sits at 62.4%, a noticeable uptick from 58.8% last year, and has thrown for 11 touchdowns and only four interceptions. While he’s far from the next Andrew Luck, his passing attack is efficient and reliable enough to give Stanford a balanced offensive approach.

​Costello does have the luxury of three reliable targets in Trenton Irwin and Kaden Smith, however it’s JJ Arcega-Whiteside who has been burning rival defenses and racking up points for the Cardinal. Smith (19 catches, 262 yards) and Irwin (20 catches, 184 yards) are catching the ball just about as much as Arcega-Whiteside, who has reeled in 22 catches of his own, however it’s the 438 yards he’s gained off those catches that puts him head and shoulders above his colleagues. As if his 19.9 yards per reception average wasn’t impressive enough, Costello has found the senior receiver eight times in the end zone this season, making him the top scoring receiver in the PAC-12. Notre Dame’s secondary, however kept Arcega-Whiteside to a mere 30 yards on five receptions and one TD, proving that stopping him is no easy task, but containing him is vital.

​If Love is in fact relegated to the bench this week, his back-up, fellow senior Cameron Scarlett will likely replace him in the backfield. He’s a proven back, amassing 389 yards on 91 carries last year, but has seen limited action in 2018, with his most production coming against UC Davis (a game Love missed due to injury) when he picked up nine carries, good for 30 yards. While Scarlett is solid, he lacks the breakout ability that makes Love such an imposing threat. Junior Trevor Speights, third on the Stanford depth chart, had two more carries than Scarlett during the UC Davis game and outgained Scarlett by 57 yards, however much of that was on a 38-yard break, showcasing more of Love’s skillset.

​Stanford’s offense has plenty of weapons to cause Utah’s defense problems, but the loss to Notre Dame exposed some weaknesses. If the Utes are fortunate enough to avoid Love and the secondary can continue wreaking havoc down field, there’s definitely hope for Utah to grab their first conference victory of the season.