Stanford football has been no stranger to the Wildcat in recent years, much to their fan's chagrin.
But something special occurred during Saturday’s 31-7 victory over the University of Central Florida that gave all 50,420 onlookers hope for future paw print plays.
The Cardinal lined up in the wildcat on a first-and-long. Freshman running back Bryce Love went in motion, and the ball was snapped, intended for sophomore running back Christian McCaffrey. Instead, it hit Love in the helmet. He grabbed it and turned it into an 8-yard gain.
Thus the “McLovin” was born, thanks in large part to press box favorite Andy Drukarev, a writer and editor for Rivals.com.
Love’s first touch in the game was by accident, but his intentions for the rest of the season were made clear after his touchdown in the fourth quarter off of a 93-yard pass from quarterback Kevin Hogan. #HeGone.
Love finished with just the one carry for eight yards but also tallied two receptions for 135 yards and proved he will be a valuable asset for the Cardinal’s offense as they navigate the tricky Pac-12.
The Cardinal’s running game was decent, finishing with 130 yards off of 41 carries from a talented group that included McCaffrey, Love, Barry Sanders Jr. and veteran Remound Wright. Sanders scored the only rushing touchdown off a 20-yard run in the fourth quarter.
But the passing game shined bright like a diamond, with Kevin Hogan going 17-for-29 for a career-high 341 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. A far cry from the numbers Stanford posted against Northwestern last weekend. Michael Rector pulled down four catches for 86 yards and one touchdown pass while McCaffrey also tallied four catches for 59 yards and a touchdown.
Love says he and his teammates left all the negativity behind in Illinois – the same way the young gun leaves behind opposing linebackers.
“You know we just moved on. We took the things from the Northwestern game and learned from them and we understand that it’s a building process – it’s a week-to-week type thing. We just focused on UCF and now on to the next.”
It’s not even a question that Love brought it against UCF, but when asked if he thought he was well utilized he responded modestly.
“Yes ma’am, definitely. I trust the coaching staff here and understand how they plan to use me and I want to benefit the team in any way. I’m focusing on playing my role, doing my job well – still learning, day-by-day, still understanding that it’s a process.”
Stanford head coach David Shaw said they will use Love sparingly as he adjusts to the system and his role in it.
“It's been great," said Shaw post game. “It was a great job today. He's a mature young man. He's prepared for this time. For those of you who have been here for a while, know there is a way that we do this. We brought Kevin along relatively slow and spoon fed him a little bit. We did the same thing with Ty Montgomery. We did the same thing with Andrew (Luck) as a true freshman, and that's what we're going to do with Bryce."
But will Stanford’s wildcat ways translate into wins, particularly this weekend against its oldest rival USC? Saturday marks the first time an unranked Stanford team meets a ranked USC squad since 2008, and the first such matchup at the Coliseum since 2007. But lucky for Stanford, Hogan is 11-6 against AP top-25 teams. The last five meetings have been decided by eight points or less. USC has won the last two meetings, snapping a four-game Stanford winning streak. In games in the Los Angeles area (including a 1918 game in Pasadena), USC leads 26-18-1.
The key for the Cardinal will be limiting USC’s potent offense; luckily they have a history of doing just that: Stanford’s defense has limited USC to 68.3 rushing yards/game and 2.25 yards/rush in its past three meetings. So there’s that.
USC may be favored in the game, but if Shaw takes off the training wheels, Stanford could pull off the upset. History does have a way of repeating itself after all. At the end of the night, Steve Sarkisian and his Trojan army just might be feeling the McLove.
(Ed's Note: Take note of #9 for Stanford. Yes, that's all-word cornerback Richard Sherman, playing wide receiver for the Cardinal.)
Sports writer. Avid fan, former player, once-upon-a-time coach, reluctant referee. I do digital media things with my friends. I also jinx kickers. Bay Area born & raised.