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No. 9 Washington could see whole lotta Love at Stanford

Washington's stellar defense is now statistically the best in the nation.

Whether it remains there may depend on whether or not it can bottle up Bryce Love.

The Stanford star has broken at least one 50-yard run in each game he has played this year and will be looking to continue his standout season when the Cardinal host the Huskies in Friday's pivotal Pac-12 game.

Washington (8-1, 5-1 Pac-12) holds a half-game lead over Washington State and Stanford (6-3, 5-2) in the Pac-12 North race. But the Huskies also can't afford a second loss per their College Football Playoff aspirations.

Washington is No. 9 in both the CFP and Associated Press polls. Stanford fell out of both after losing to Washington State last Saturday.

So the matchup also qualifies as a must-win affair for the Cardinal to remain in the Pac-12 division race.

"It's the best team in the conference coming to our house, so we don't have time to wallow, to lament about what happened last Saturday," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "We've got to get ready to go."

And that figures to mean the Cardinal will throw a lot of Love toward the Huskies.

The junior has 11 runs of 50 or more yards this season. His 1,456 total rushing yards rank second nationally behind San Diego State's Rashaad Penny (1,602). Love also boasts a superb 9.6 average per carry.

Holding Love in check will be an imposing task for Washington, which ranks sixth nationally in rushing defense (91.1) as well as its nation-best 240.9 total yards allowed per game.

"He's just one of those guys that's really fast, strong, keeps his legs going at all times," Huskies coach Chris Petersen said of Love. "He's hard to tackle. He bounces off, runs through hard tackles, really powerful. Obviously, he's got really good vision. The way they put all those big offensive linemen and you're not sure where the crease is going to be and he always finds it."

Love is coming off a season-low 69 yards against Washington State. He broke free for a 52-yard touchdown run but was otherwise held to 17 yards on 15 attempts.

He missed the previous game against Oregon State because of an ankle injury and Shaw said Love is still feeling the effects.

The Washington defense allowed a 100-yard rusher for the first time all season last Saturday when Oregon's Royce Freeman rumbled for 122 yards.

The Huskies won 38-3 so the yardage wasn't an issue in Petersen's eyes. Washington ranks second nationally in scoring defense (11.1) and the unit has allowed 10 or fewer points on five occasions.

"That's one of the things that, if you're going to have a good team, to me it's always going to start out on defense," Petersen said. "We've had good defenses for a long, long time. Everybody likes to talk about offense, complain about offense or brag about offense, but I think it always starts on defense."

Stanford will be starting redshirt freshman quarterback K.J. Costello for the second straight week. Costello struggled in snowy conditions against Washington State as he was 9-of-20 passing for 105 yards and one interception.

"It's hard to get thrown in a game like that, in the weather, against a team like that," Shaw said. "That's tough duty, and tough duty again this week."

Washington junior quarterback Jake Browning fared well against the Stanford defense last season by throwing three touchdown passes in a 44-6 rout of the Cardinal.

Browning doesn't have a 300-yard game this season while passing for 1,907 yards and 16 touchdowns against five interceptions. He is currently tied for the school record of 75 career touchdown passes with Keith Price (2010-13).

The Huskies have been running the ball well with junior Myles Gaskin topping 100 rushing yards in four of the past six games. Gaskin has rushed for 918 yards and 10 touchdowns and is in good position to top 1,300 yards for the third straight season.

Gaskin sits in third place in school history with 3,593 rushing yards and is tied for second with Napoleon Kaufman (1991-94) with 34 career rushing scores.

Washington senior wideout Dante Pettis has returned four punts for touchdowns this year and set the career record of nine with a 64-yard scoring return against Oregon.

The Stanford defense allows an average of 21.3 points per game and has been touched up for 42 points in a loss to USC and 34 in a victory over UCLA.

Junior strong safety Justin Reid is tied for second in the nation with five interceptions. Reid is second on the team with 61 tackles behind senior defensive tackle Harrison Phillips (68 stops), who has a team-best five sacks.

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