McCaffrey, Stanford Run Past Bears to Take Axe

By: Ben Leonard

Thanks to Christian McCaffrey, the Axe is staying on the Farm. Again.

McCaffrey tore up a weak Cal defense on Saturday with a 49-yard touchdown reception and a 98-yard kickoff return touchdown, helping Stanford win 35-22 over rival Cal and keep the Stanford Axe with its namesake for the sixth straight year. Oh yeah, not to mention that they clinched a spot in the Pac-12 championship game.

Coming into the game, Stanford knew Cal’s defensive front was going to break — it was just a matter of how much. Stanford’s tunnel worker union offensive line bulldozed the way for McCaffrey, dominating Cal’s defensive line to help McCaffrey rush for 192 yards and 389 all-purpose yards. Just another day at the office for McCaffrey.

He’s now the school’s single-game school record holder for all-purpose yards, and is just 444 yards short of Barry Sanders’ once-thought-untouchable record of 3,250 all-purpose yards. He has three games left to go — personally, I like his chances.

His 49-yarder broke open the game in the second quarter, putting the Cardinal up 14-3 over the Bears. He juked practically the entire Cal team on the screen pass, bouncing off tackles to end up in the end zone late in the second. His kickoff return for a score put the Cardinal up 21-6 at the half. He had 282 all-purpose yards in the first half, 77 more yards than Cal’s entire offense. Can somebody spell Heisman?

  But Stanford’s defense let Cal and their air-raid offense stay in the game, bending but not breaking. Jared Goff led the way for Cal’s offense, dropping back 54 times and throwing for 397 yards. Stanford’s secondary suffered without team leader and fifth-year senior Ronnie Harris at cornerback, having to start an array of freshman and inexperienced corners — it showed. Ten different Cal receivers had a catch, including Goff himself. Even though Stanford bottled up the run, (Cal had just 98 yards on the ground) Cal snuck back in it. Goff engineered two scoring drives in the third quarter, one for 68 yards and a field goal and one for 86 yards and a touchdown, cutting Stanford’s lead to 21-16 heading into the fourth. But McCaffrey (74 yards) led Stanford  as they broke away with two straight touchdowns in the fourth, putting the game in the refrigerator. Bryce Love flashed his track speed on a 49-yard scamper, giving Stanford a 35-16 lead with six minutes left, and which point you could practically feel the Axe. For your viewing pleasure:  

The Pac-12 North champions did it all in spite of a quiet day from Kevin Hogan (7-12, 96 yards, TD) who they didn’t even really need to use. Cal’s defensive front was so weak that all Hogan had to do was hand it off to McCaffrey. It would have been nice to get him some work throwing the ball heading into a gigantic matchup with Notre Dame next week. The Irish don’t have a great front, but have a good pass defense (25th in the nation), so it would have been good to get him in a rhythm.

However, depending on the College Football Playoff Rankings that will be released on Tuesday, Saturday’s game against the Irish might have no impact on their bowl position. If the committee doesn’t vote their way, Stanford would face an uphill battle and need a lot of help to sneak into the top four, but a non-conference game against Notre Dame wouldn’t have an effect on their Rose Bowl status. As of now, if they beat the winner of USC/UCLA in the Pac-12 championship game, they’re heading down to Pasadena.


Cover Image: Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey (5) carries against California during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015, in Stanford, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)