FILE - In this Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018 file photo, Stanford running back Bryce Love (20) stiff-arms Southern California cornerback Iman Marshall (8) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Stanford, Calif. Stanford will get star running back Bryce Love back for this week's Pac-12 North showdown against No. 20 Oregon but the seventh-ranked Cardinal will be without a key defensive player. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — Over the years, Stanford coach David Shaw said he’s spoken to Utah’s Kyle Whittingham about the matchup between the Cardinal and Utes.

“Both teams gear up for this being, potentially, the most physical game of the year for both of us,” said Shaw, who noted the importance of not taking a wrong step in preparation for it. “Both teams are going to go hard. Both teams are going to be physical. Both teams are going to be in attack mode. You can’t flinch. You can’t back down. You can’t take a play off. That’s just the way this game is going to be.”

Stanford and Utah have split eight previous meetings. In the Pac-12 era, the Utes hold a 2-1 advantage. The games, though, have been decided by a combined total of just six points and one contest was decided in double overtime.

" They are who they've been for many years and I don't think that if Bryce is unavailable that they will change dramatically. "
Kyle Whittingham on injured Stanford running back Bryce Love

"We are both traditionally physical and run-oriented teams. That is certainly the case this year with them. They are a run-first team,” said Whittingham, who doesn’t think that will change even if Stanford star running back Bryce Love doesn’t play because of an ankle injury. “But you don't worry about that stuff because everybody has someone that is hurt. They aren't going to change dramatically who they are because of that. We've always been able to stand toe-to-toe and slug it out with them."

During Tuesday’s Pac-12 teleconference, Shaw indicated that Love will “kind of be day-to-day” and a “late-week decision” in terms of his availability for Saturday. The senior injured his ankle early in the fourth quarter of last week’s 38-17 loss at Notre Dame.

“The good thing is it doesn’t look severe, not as severe as he went through last year, which is great,” Shaw said.

Love, who was the runner-up to Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield in last year’s Heisman Trophy voting, rushed for 2,118 yards in 2017. He had 152 yards in a 23-20 victory over Utah at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Love provided what proved to be the game-winning score with a 68-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

Should Love not play this time around, Stanford won’t be empty-handed on offense. Junior quarterback K.J. Costello is third in the Pac-12 with 11 passing touchdowns. The Cardinal rank fourth in pass efficiency offense (151.46 rating).

“He is a good quarterback. He does what they need him to do very well,” said Whittingham, who reiterated that he doesn’t believe that Stanford will alter its scheme very much. “They are who they've been for many years and I don't think that if Bryce is unavailable that they will change dramatically. They still have very capable backs and so maybe there will be a tad more throws, but I don't think it will be a wholesale change in what they do."

However, the Cardinal do have some big receiving targets. Senior JJ Arcega-Whiteside, a 6-foot-3 senior, currently tops the Pac-12 in total touchdowns (8) and points (48). Sophomore tight end Colby Parkinson, who is 6-foot-7, is another player to watch.

Defensively, Stanford ranks fourth in the Pac-12 in points allowed. The Cardinal are giving up just 18.4 points per game. Junior safety Malik Antoine and senior cornerback Alameen Murphy each have two interceptions.

Stanford opened the season with wins over San Diego State (31-10), USC (17-3), UC Davis (30-10) and Oregon (38-31, OT). Then came the setback at Notre Dame.

At 4-1 overall and 2-0 in Pac-12 play, the Cardinal are tied with Washington for the North Division lead.

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EXTRA POINTS: Stanford has several Utah high school graduates on its roster — senior linebacker Sean Barton (Woods Cross), senior offensive guard Brandon Fanaika (Pleasant Grove), freshman receiver Simi Fehoko (Brighton), sophomore fullback Houston Heimuli (Bountiful), freshman linebacker Tangaloa Kaufusi (East) and sophomore linebacker Gabe Reid (Timpview) . . . Whittingham (14 years) and Shaw (eight years) are the longest-tenured head coaches in the Pac-12 . . . The Cardinal are one of only four teams in the nation that have yet to lose a fumble this season.


Utah (2-2, 0-2) at No. 14 Stanford (4-1, 2-0)

Stanford Stadium

Saturday, 8:30 p.m. (MT)


Radio: ESPN 700AM