By: Ben Leonard
If you didn’t think Stanford was back on the national radar yet, you now have no choice but to concede it — the Cardinal is back.
Christian McCaffrey’s record-setting night put him on the early short list of invitees to New York, Francis Owusu made the catch of the year, and the defense stifled Josh Rosen’s Bruins in an utterly dominant 55-36 win over #18 UCLA.
McCaffrey took the first play from scrimmage for a 25-yard run, and kept on running — and running. No one in college football has looked as dominant as the sophomore running back did on Thursday night, save for Leonard Fornette. He broke Toby Gerhart’s single-game rushing record before the end of the third quarter, pounding the rock 25 times for 243 yards, a whopping 9.7 yards per carry.
Oh yeah, and he had a 96-yard kickoff return, to boot. His 396 all-purpose yards were the most by an FBS player this season. Yeah, this McCaffrey guy’s alright.
But the Cardinal didn’t even need McCaffrey in the early going, getting a quick 31-yard pick-six from Alijah Holder to help Stanford take an early 7-0 lead. Looking all of the true freshman that he is, Rosen threw into triple coverage, and Holder made him pay. After a UCLA field goal, Stanford got an easy score on McCaffrey’s big return, setting up a four-yard touchdown toss to Austin Hooper that gave the Cardinal a 14-3 lead.
But UCLA’s offense looked threatening in the early going, with Rosen burning the secondary on slants, and eventually, a big play, connecting with receiver Darren Andrews for a 70-yard score to cut Stanford’s lead to 14-10.
Right when you thought the Bruins were back in it, David Shaw did what David Shaw does best — make quick defensive adjustments. The Cardinal defense then forced three straight punts before the half, holding UCLA to a whopping 11 yards on those drives and letting the scary-good offense do its thing.
Stanford went on to find in end zone in three of their next four drives, including two of McCaffery’s four rushing touchdowns, that gave the Cardinal a commanding 35-10 lead. Kevin Hogan added one of his three touchdowns to Devon Cajuste, this one a nine-yard score.
Hogan quietly had a decent night, although not quite as efficient as his last few times out, completing 8 of his 15 attempts for 131 yards. He never really was able to get in a rhythm because of Stanford’s plethora of big plays early on — he never really got to settle in until late in the first quarter. But thanks to McCaffrey, he didn’t need to be perfect.
UCLA added a touchdown before the half, cutting Stanford’s lead to 35-17 — but it felt like 350-17. This team cemented its spot among college football’s elite on Thursday, looking like a legitmate College Football Playoff contender. Not too many teams, especially just 6.5-point favorites, thoroughly dismantle a top-20 squad, even at home.
After the break, UCLA quickly punted, allowing Francis Owsusu to seize the ball, and the Cardinal to seize the game.In case you missed it, yes, he did catch this ball. This isn’t photoshopped. Trust me.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 16, 2015
On an end-around, Kevin Hogan got the pitch from Bryce Love and threw a 41-yard bomb to Owusu, who somehow managed to haul that pass in. He reached around a UCLA defender who was flagged for blatant pass interference and somehow snagged the ball, no-look style. The best catch I’ve ever seen got Stanford Stadium in a frenzy — and UCLA never recovered, down 42-17. Before garbage time ensued in the fourth quarter, Stanford found itself up 56-20 at the end of the third, but not before we saw two more McCaffrey touchdowns, one of them a 70-yarder. The final score was ultimately pretty misleading — UCLA added two late garbage scores on the second and third unit defense.
Overall, the defense did its job, despite allowing 501 yards of offense. They forced two turnovers, and kept UCLA running back Paul Perkins in check, holding him to 104 yards — a deceivingly high total when you factor in that he had a 43-yard run.
McCaffrey is the best running back to play on The Farm since Gerhart — and could find himself on the podium in New York, if LSU falls off of the face of the college football world. What gets overlooked about McCaffrey is his patience — he darts side-to-side like a rabbit until the hole opens up, and then he pounces. It’s beautiful to watch — and we still have two and a half more seasons of this guy. Wow.
He even struck a Heisman pose:
Bet you Rosen wishes Stanford offered him even more now — the blue-chip recruit and true freshman didn’t receive an offer from Stanford, and he expressed his bitterness towards the Cardinal even before getting embarrassed by them. I want to feel sorry for the guy, but I don’t.
With the win, Stanford moved to 5-1 on the season, while UCLA dropped to 4-2 while losing their eighth straight game against Stanford.
The Cardinal survived a scare in the second quarter, when Blake Martinez went down with what appeared to be a concussion after a targeting penalty hit he suffered. However, after going to the locker room, he returned after half time, and coach Shaw explained that he just had the wind knocked out of him.
Cover and body image: Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey (5) stiff-arms UCLA linebacker Kenny Young (42) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015, Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)