After scoring just four offensive touchdowns in its last five games, Stanford football (5-3, 3-3 Pac-12) crossed the goal line just as many times in the span of 60 minutes Saturday, displaying a significant and desperately-needed offensive improvement in a 34-10 road win over the Arizona Wildcats (2-6, 0-5).
Paradoxically, it took a trip into the heart of the desert for the Cardinal to end several of their lingering droughts. In addition to Stanford’s offensive revival on the scoreboard, junior running back Christian McCaffrey, who had not scored a touchdown since Sept. 17 against USC, exploded for 169 yards on 23 carries and three scores, including one through the air.
After dealing with lingering injuries for the past few weeks that even kept him out of action against Notre Dame two weeks prior, McCaffrey looked back to being his usual, dazzling self. His emergence was also aided by the steely play of the Cardinal offensive line, who established control of the line of scrimmage for much of the evening. Stanford ultimately finished with 237 yards on the ground, averaging 5.6 yards per carry.
“It felt great,” McCaffrey said. “It feels even better getting a win, especially just getting something going with our offense. We’ve struggled a bit as the year has gone on, but it felt really good to get back to a little bit of a comfort level.”
Meanwhile, junior quarterback Keller Chryst, making his first career start after replacing senior Ryan Burns, turned in a statistically uninspiring performance, going 14-for-30 through the air for 104 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Chryst also displayed his signature arm on multiple occasions, but was unable to connect on those deep throws over the course of the game.
Stanford struck first on a 45-yard rushing touchdown by McCaffrey on the Cardinal’s first play of the second quarter. The junior took a handoff from Chryst, found a lane up the middle – with the help of an explosive block from junior tackle Casey Tucker – and did what he does best, utilizing his speed to beat out the Wildcats defenders.
McCaffrey once again showcased his shiftiness just six minutes later, scoring for the Cardinal on their next drive to take a 14-0 lead. The 18-yard touchdown came on a pass from Chryst to a wide open McCaffrey, who scampered into the end zone untouched to give Stanford its first game with multiple offensive touchdowns since Week 3.
The Wildcats retaliated with a 38-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brandon Dawkins to wide receiver Trey Griffey.
Chryst, who struggled with accuracy throughout the game, threw an interception at midfield on Stanford’s next drive, but freshman guard Nate Herbig came up clutch in his first career start, forcing a fumble by the Arizona defender which was recovered by the Cardinal. The drive would result in a 45-yard field goal from Conrad Ukropina in the waning seconds of the half. The fifth-year senior would finish the night with a perfect line, going 2-for-2 with four extra points.
McCaffrey capped off his scoring for the night with a third touchdown on a 6-yard run with four minutes left in the third quarter. He now ranks sixth in the nation with 182.86 all-purpose yards per game, a remarkable feat given his setbacks this season due to injury.
Trenton Irwin led all Stanford receivers for the third straight game with five receptions for 34 yards while fellow sophomore JJ Arcega-Whiteside made his team-leading fourth touchdown grab in the waning moments of the fourth quarter on an end zone fade toss from Chryst.
The Cardinal defense also impressed in Tucson, holding the Wildcats’ high-octane attack to just 10 points and forcing two turnovers in the form of a Mike Tyler fumble recovery and a Ben Edwards interception. Stanford’s defensive efforts consistently hampered Dawkins, who completed just five of 15 passes for 116 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
After showing flashes of life on offense once again, the Cardinal will return to action at home next Saturday against the Oregon State Beavers at 12:30 p.m. Arizona will travel to Pullman to take on Washington State still in search of its first conference win.
Contact Olivia Hummer at ohummer ‘at’ stanford.edu and Vihan Lakshman at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.