|Running backs in spotlight for No. 19 Stanford-San Diego State|
No. 19 Stanford's game at San Diego State will feature two of the nation's most explosive players.
Cardinal running back Bryce Love and Aztecs running back Rashaad Penny are tied for first nationally with six runs of 20-plus yards through just two games.
Each team's running attack will be in the spotlight for Saturday's night game at San Diego Stadium in San Diego as Stanford looks to bounce back from a loss to USC while San Diego State goes for back-to-back wins over a Pac-12 school.
Love is off to a sensational start, inheriting a bigger backfield role this season from departed star Christian McCaffrey. Love has rushed for 340 yards, including 160 and a touchdown in last week's 42-24 loss at then-No. 4 USC.
Penny tormented Arizona State, winning the Walter Camp national offensive player of the week award after gaining 353 all-purpose yards, including 216 rushing. He scored on a 99-yard kick return, a 95-yard run and a 33-yard reception. San Diego State, the two-time defending Mountain West champion, won 30-20 in Tempe, Ariz.
Penny, like Love, is emerging into a bigger spotlight. The speedy Penny -- who has six career kick return touchdowns, most among current FBS players and one shy of tying the national record -- mostly has the backfield to himself following the departure of Donnel Pumphrey, who left San Diego State after last season as the FBS career rushing leader.
"Just seeing what we knew all along," SDSU coach Rocky Long said of Penny. "We think he is one of the best running backs in the country. He had a great year last year, but didn't carry it as much because the guy in front of him set the all time NCAA record for rushing."
Stanford (1-1) is licking its wounds from the game at USC, and it was the way in which the Cardinal lost that raises concerns against San Diego State, the preseason pick to again win the West Division of the Mountain West.
Stanford's rise nationally was facilitated by a physical style in which it ran the ball effectively and stopped the opponent's running game. The Cardinal ranked among the nation's top 40 in rushing defense each of the past seven seasons and finished in the top five in four of those years.
But the Trojans racked up 307 yards on the ground and averaged 6.4 yards per carry against the Cardinal, and two USC backs (Stephen Carr and Ronald Jones II) each rushed for more than 100 yards.
"I thought we ran it well, but they ran it better than we did. I'm not used to saying things like that," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "Their offensive line played better than our front seven. ... We have to play better up front."
The Cardinal ranks 113th of 129 FBS teams in rushing defense, and that is a concern against a team featuring Penny, who leads the nation in rushing (206.5 yards per game) and introduced himself to the nation with last week's monster game.
"Every game you look at, he finds a way to make plays," Shaw said. "The combination of size, speed, strength -- it's impressive."
Penny suggested after the Arizona State game that the Aztecs have the same offensive approach as Stanford.
"Ground and pound," Penny said. "Pound them."
Love is fourth in the nation in yards per game at 170 and is averaging 11.6 yards per carry.
"He's No. 20 and looks a whole lot like Rashaad Penny carrying the ball," Long said. "He is about the same height and has the same number."
San Diego State limited Arizona State to 44 rushing yards and 1.4 yards per attempt. Over its first two games, including a 38-17 rout of UC Davis, the Aztecs have allowed just 1.74 yards per rush, which ranks fifth in the country.
San Diego State's pass defense is suspect, however, ranking 93rd nationally in passing yards allowed per game (279.0). That puts the onus on Stanford quarterback Keller Chryst, who has been OK, but not great. He has completed 55.8 percent of his passes for 475 yards and four touchdowns and no interceptions. He will have to deal with San Diego State's 3-3-5 base defense.
San Diego State quarterback Christian Chapman, who has started the past 18 games, has completed 64.1 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and one pick this year.
Stanford will be the highest-ranked team to visit SDSU at San Diego Stadium -- known as Qualcomm Stadium until this year -- since Fresno State was ranked 15th nationally on Oct. 22, 2013. It is SDSU's highest-ranked match-up at home with a non-conference opponent since Sept. 24, 1998 (No. 16 Arizona).
The Aztecs have won 20 of their last 23 home games.