In the aftermath of Francis Owusu’s absurd catch of the year, Christian McCaffrey was so shocked that he had to run to the sideline and sit down in order to just process what had happened.
But it says a lot about how monumentally incredible Stanford’s performance was on Thursday night that a no-look, on-the-back-of-a-defender, double-reverse-out-of-the-Wildcat catch that transfixed a nation was nothing more than a footnote thanks to a historic effort from the aforementioned McCaffrey.
The sophomore running back shattered Stanford’s all-time single-game rushing record with a 243-yard performance as the No. 15 Cardinal (5-1, 4-0 Pac-12) laid waste to No. 18 UCLA’s (4-2, 1-2) defense en route to a statement 56-35 victory on national television in front of a packed Stanford Stadium. The win made it eight straight over the Bruins for the Cardinal.
“It makes football fun, seeing a lot of holes and making those runs,” McCaffrey said. “Those are the games people dream of.”
McCaffrey averaged 9.7 yards per rush on his 25 attempts, edging Toby Gerhart’s record of 223 yards set in 2009. It was his second 200-yard game of the season after a 206-yard show at Oregon State. He also found the end zone four times — also tying a Stanford record — and came just 10 yards short of Stanford’s all-time all-purpose yards record with 369 on the night.
“I did not know [about the record] until they said it on the loudspeaker,” he said. “But it’s cliché, but we had a lot of receivers blocking downfield and that’s the guys that really made it happen and I’m just happy for them.”
“We have got a big back in a little body,” said head coach David Shaw. “He’s a heck of a football player: Not just a great runner — a great runner, a great receiver, kickoff returner, punt returner. Had an outstanding night. His teammates had his back.”
McCaffrey also played a pretty significant role in one of the most ludicrous plays in recent memory.
With McCaffrey playing at quarterback in the Wildcat formation on Stanford’s first drive of the third quarter, Bryce Love took the sweep handoff from the sophomore and pitched it to Hogan reversing across the formation, who set his feet and threw a deep ball into the end zone for Owusu.
“I saw it for a little bit, and then from there I just felt the ball after that; I didn’t really see it and then squeezed as hard as I can when I felt it,” Owusu said.
“That was one of the most incredible plays I’ve seen,” McCaffrey added. “We won’t let him forget it.”
And as the Twitterverse and internet caught fire in the aftermath of Owusu’s catch, Stanford’s offense stayed blazing hot late into the cool Palo Alto night and rattled off a fourth straight 40-point performance, making the Cardinal one of just 10 teams in the country to have done so this year.
The offensive outburst also makes Stanford the Pac-12’s leader in scoring offense, even considering the anemic 6-point effort the Cardinal put up in their season-opening loss to Northwestern.
What makes the effort even more impressive was that Stanford did all this on a less-than-elite night from Hogan, with the fifth-year senior quarterback off the mark on a lot of his passes, leading to an 8-of-15 line with 131 yards, 3 touchdowns and an interception.
However, Hogan did a tremendous job of making the right reads at the line and checking into the correct runs based on UCLA’s defensive formations, setting the stage for McCaffrey’s historic night.
“I thought Kevin did a great job managing the gameplan and getting us some great runs and seeing what they were in defensively,” Shaw said.
The Wildcat was also on full display — not only did the Owusu touchdown pass come in the formation, but McCaffrey also added a 70-yard touchdown run from the line of scrimmage later in the third quarter to stretch the lead to 29 points. Another 6-yard touchdown run to close the third quarter put the cap on his historic performance and put Stanford up 56-20 to commence garbage time.
Before McCaffrey took over the game, Stanford also showed off even more of its diverse playbook in a whirlwind first half that included Stanford throwing touchdown passes to Austin Hooper and Devon Cajuste on its heavy goal-line packages — something Stanford had previously almost never done in the Shaw era.
“I commend the staff putting together a really good game plan for our guys,” Shaw said.
In all, Stanford had three scoring drives of longer than 70 yards on the evening — on drives of 14, nine and two plays, as the Cardinal showed off both their explosive, big-play ability and their methodical, power-running persona.
Although UCLA freshman quarterback sensation Josh Rosen had a decent day with 325 yards and 3 touchdowns and Bruins running back Paul Perkins ran for 104 yards and a score, Stanford’s extra contributions on defense and special teams completely swayed the outcome of the game.
The first quarter saw a pick-six from sophomore cornerback Alijah Holder to start all scoring — Stanford’s first since Kevin Anderson in the 2014 Rose Bowl — and a 96-yard kickoff return from McCaffrey that set Stanford up in fantastic position to take a big early lead.
On that interception return, Rosen dropped back for a pass and looked for wide receiver Devin Fuller on the deep out, but Holder undercut the route and unleashed a bevy of cuts and spin moves in a deft route to the end zone to give Stanford a 7-0 lead.
“It’s been so long since we got that pick six and it was great to see that by Alijah Holder,” Shaw said. “He’s been playing really well all year. It was great to see him jump that one and take that back to the house.”
Although Rosen also threw for a 70-yard touchdown of his own in the first quarter as the teams dueled to a 14-10 margin at the break, Stanford’s defense buckled down and held UCLA to just 10 points through the next two quarters before Stanford’s third-team defense allowed the remainder of the points.
The win snapped a 12-game road winning streak for UCLA and also extended Stanford’s winning streak in home night games to 25. But for as good as Stanford looked in humiliating a top-20 opponent, everybody on the Cardinal agrees that there’s still a long way to go for this offense — a daunting prospect for opposing defensive coordinators.
“It’s a lot of fun when you’re playing well and executing,” Hogan said. “But at the same time, we know that we can be better, so we’re excited for next week. We want to be even better than tonight.”
Stanford remains the only team in the Pac-12 North that is undefeated in conference play, and that’s what the Cardinal have their sights set on after the big UCLA victory. But Stanford could be a top-10 team in the country come Sunday, and with heads turning around the country, many are wondering just how far this team could go.
“We’re at our goal right now, which is to win every Pac-12 game, and that’s our goal at the end of the year,” Hogan said. “But each game — it comes with winning — each game only gets bigger.”
“We’re not going to stop,” Owusu added. “We’re going to keep our heads down and keep digging. We want to go far this year.”
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.