SALT LAKE CITY — Patience is not only a virtue, it’s also a big part of Bryce Love’s game.
Love has built his reputation as a big-play running back for Stanford this season. What goes unnoticed, at times, is his knack for reading defenses and picking his spots to attack. Grinding it out is part of the job he expects to do.
That’s part of what makes him so dangerous.
Utah contained Love for long stretches Saturday night but in the end, the junior still gashed the No. 20 Utes for 152 yards on 20 carries in a 23-20 victory for the Cardinal. He has 1,240 yards in six games.
“It’s just a testament to our offense,” Love said. “We’re really big on grinding it out for however long it takes and we just need one opportunity to make something happen. The line trusts me when they give me a crease that I have to hit it and get what I can. That’s really my job.”
Love opened the game by gaining eight yards on his first nine carries before ripping off a 39-yard run to set up Stanford’s first touchdown. He capped his night with a brilliant 68-yard touchdown run to give the Cardinal enough of a fourth-quarter cushion to survive a late Utah touchdown.
Facing the Pac-12’s top rushing defense, Love lost some battles but won the war.
“You look at their personnel and it’s like an NFL defense,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “Big guys all over the place. They can all hit. They can all tackle. We knew with enough opportunities Bryce Love was going to break one or two of them out and he did that.”
The Cardinal (4-2, 3-1 Pac-12) beat the Utes for the first time since Utah joined the Pac-12 in 2011.
Stanford quarterback Keller Chryst returned to the lineup for the first time since getting injured against UCLA. Chryst alternated with K.J. Costello under center with great success. The quarterback duo combined for 188 yards on 13-of-24 passing and generated 42 yards on six carries.
Troy Williams, filling in for injured starter Tyler Huntley, made his first start of the season at quarterback for Utah. Williams finished with 238 yards and a touchdown on 20-of-39 passing. He also threw a pair of costly interceptions on back-to-back fourth-quarter drives.
“I just have to play better, bottom line,” Williams said. “I have full confidence in my offensive line. I just need to play better.”
Zack Moss rushed for 79 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries for Utah. The Utes (4-1, 1-1 Pac-12) finished with 382 total yards while Stanford gained 384.
Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said he felt the team was too one-dimensional at times on offense to overcome Stanford’s tough defense.
“We have to be more efficient throwing the football,” Whittingham said. “You cannot win a game completing 50 percent of your passes. We have our work cut out for us next week (against USC). We have to keep our heads up.”
Utah and Stanford traded field goals in the third quarter. Jet Toner hit a 29-yarder after a fumbled snap by punter Mitch Wishnowsky put the Cardinal at the Ute 15-yard line. The Utes answered on a 30-yard field goal from Matt Gay to narrow Stanford’s lead to 16-13 late in the quarter.
Then Love gave the Cardinal some breathing room early in the fourth quarter when he found a gap in the line and broke loose for his 68-yard gallop. It gave Stanford a 23-13 lead with 12:02 remaining.
Utah’s efforts to answer on the following drive came up short. The Utes marched down to the Stanford 25 on the strength of a 24-yard catch-and-run from Darren Carrington. Quenton Meeks kept Utah from moving any further when he picked off a tipped pass at the Cardinal 16 two plays later.
Justin Reid picked off another pass from Williams on the first play of Utah’s subsequent drive to help keep the Utes at arm’s length down the stretch.
“That was just pure game planning,” Reid said. “Pure game planning from the formation they lined up in with the person they had in each spot. We knew the routes before they even ran them.”
The Utes closed the gap on Carrington’s 18-yard touchdown grab with 44 seconds left. Stanford recovered a subsequent onside kick to run out the clock.
Stanford took a 3-0 lead on a 21-yard field goal from Jet Toner to cap its opening drive. Kaden Smith set up the scoring play after breaking tackles and taking a catch 54 yards to the Utah 12. The Cardinal would have scored on a 12-yard run from Love, but it was called back on a penalty.
Utah answered quickly. Moss plowed into the end zone on a 2-yard run to give the Utes a 7-3 lead after opening the drive with two big runs.
The Utes had a chance to add to their lead on their ensuing drive, but Matt Gay missed a 50-yard field-goal attempt.
Stanford took a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter on Chryst’s 7-yard keeper.
Utah tied it on a 30-yard field goal from Gay. Toner answered with a 46-yarder to put the Cardinal up 13-10 just before halftime.
NOTES: Stanford RB Bryce Love entered the game as the nation’s leading rusher with 1,088 yards. Love averaged 11.1 yards per carry in his first five games. ... Utah QB Troy Williams made his first start of the season in place of injured sophomore Tyler Huntley. Williams started at quarterback in all 13 games for the Utes in 2016. ... Stanford QB Keller Chryst started the game after sitting out the Cardinal’s 34-24 victory over Arizona State with an injury. The Cardinal alternated between Chryst and backup QB K.J. Costello. ... Utah K Matt Gay had made 14 straight field-goal attempts before missing for the first time this season in the first quarter.