Alabama running back Derrick Henry won the Heisman Trophy and is preparing for the national championship, but Stanford superstar Christian McCaffrey looked more than Heisman-worthy Friday during his team's 45-16 evisceration of Iowa.
The do-everything running back finished with 368 all-purpose yards (172 rushing, 105 receiving, 63 punt return and 28 kick return) and two touchdowns and was clearly the best player on the field against an overmatched Hawkeyes squad. The game was virtually over after a 21-0 outburst in the first quarter that McCaffrey spearheaded.
Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan also had 223 passing yards and four total touchdowns, while the Stanford defense held the Iowa offense to a measly 48 rushing yards.
The Cardinal defense was efficient (only yielding points and large chunks of yardage after the game was well in hand), but McCaffrey showed the entire country just how superb he was all season.
ESPN Stats & Info demonstrated that it was business as usual for the playmaker:
This is Christian McCaffrey's 6th game of the season with at least 300 all-purpose yards. No other FBS player has more than 2 this season.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 2, 2016
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports was certainly impressed:
Mccaffrey is one of the 5 best college players I've ever seen (johnny rodgers, Tony dorsett, Barry sanders, Anthony carter)— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) January 1, 2016
Kevin McGuire of CollegeFootballTalk had an admirable outlook on McCaffrey's showing:
It’s a shame so many are so invested in debates over conference strength and playoff expansion, because it’s fun to just watch McCaffrey.— Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB) January 2, 2016
To say the first half was a nightmare for the Hawkeyes against McCaffrey and Co. would be an understatement of Rose Parade-like proportions. The Cardinal seized a 35-0 lead and set a Rose Bowl record for first-half points along the way, per Derek Young of Scout.com.
McCaffrey set the tone when he caught a 75-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, ran a punt back for a score in the second quarter and finished with 248 all-purpose yards in the first two quarters alone. ESPN College Football shared some of his highlights:
Christian McCaffrey is already at work promoting his 2016 Heisman campaign. https://t.co/TjAPWmg4aV— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) January 1, 2016
Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports marveled at that speed:
McCaffrey is clearly fast, but his small-space quickness is amazing. The way his feet move is dazzling.— Pat Forde (@YahooForde) January 1, 2016
Joel Klatt of Fox Sports reiterated McCaffrey's greatness:
I can't remember watching a CFB player that is as complete/versatile as McCaffrey...help me out...Charles Woodson??— Joel Klatt (@joelklatt) January 1, 2016
McGuire had a different perspective than most:
My goodness, Iowa. Go home.— Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB) January 1, 2016
Outside of McCaffrey's dominance, Quenton Meeks ran an interception back for a score in the first quarter, and Hogan ran it in from eight yards out and hit Michael Rector for a 31-yard touchdown to wrap up an incredible first-half performance. The Cardinal band even rubbed it in at halftime, as Bryan Fischer of Bleacher Report highlighted:
Loud, loud boo's from Iowa fans upon the conclusion of the Farmers Only halftime show. pic.twitter.com/4Kckysi4Pj— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) January 2, 2016
At least Iowa had one thing to be proud of, as presidential candidate Carly Fiorina rooted for the Hawkeyes before the Iowa caucuses instead of her former school:
Love my alma mater, but rooting for a Hawkeyes win today. #RoseBowl— Carly Fiorina (@CarlyFiorina) January 1, 2016
Stanford continued to pour it on in the third quarter when it stopped the Hawkeyes and marched right back down the field for a field goal to push the lead to 38-0. McCaffrey made Iowa look silly again, and Fischer weighed in on the dynamic playmaker:
McCaffrey just broke Greg Mabin’s ankles. AI didn’t have a crossover that good.— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) January 2, 2016
McCaffrey looked like the best player in the country, and Brian Floyd of SB Nation seconded Fischer's opinion:
Christian McCaffrey is coming for all of your ankles. He's gonna hang em in a trophy room where the Heisman would've gone— Brian Floyd (@BrianMFloyd) January 2, 2016
While McCaffrey and the offense stole the show, the Stanford defense that was vulnerable at times this season deserved plenty of recognition as well. The Hawkeyes continued to struggle well into the third quarter, and Marc Morehouse of the Cedar Rapids Gazette praised that unit's efforts:
McCaffrey will get the MVP, and it's not a debate, but Stanford defense has been just as dominant. OK, maybe close to as dominant.— marcmorehouse (@marcmorehouse) January 2, 2016
Iowa finally got on the board with a field goal when Stanford snapped the ball over its punter's head and put the Hawkeyes in scoring position. Adam Kramer of Bleacher Report commented on the sequence:
That is in the sad field goal hall of fame.— Adam Kramer (@KegsnEggs) January 2, 2016
The fourth quarter was a mere formality at 38-3, but Avinash Kunnath of Pacific Takes did not overlook the Stanford offensive line as it continued to grind away the clock:
Christian McCaffrey is really good, but that Stanford offensive line is destroying everything Iowa in his path. They deserve a lot of credit— Avinash Kunnath (@avinashkunnath) January 2, 2016
The Hawkeyes finally found the end zone when C.J. Beathard found Matt VandeBerg for a 36-yard score. Naturally, Iowa missed the extra point and still found itself trailing, 38-9, and then allowed McCaffrey to break the Rose Bowl record on the ensuing possession, per Dan Greenspan of the Associated Press:
Christian McCaffrey now holds the #RoseBowl single-game record for all-purpose yards w/ 360, besting Jared Abbrederis’ 346.— Dan Greenspan (@DanGreenspan) January 2, 2016
Iowa continued to attempt to save face with an interception in the end zone late in the fourth quarter. It parlayed that turnover into a touchdown to trim the deficit to 38-16 and elicited a tongue-in-cheek response from Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports:
GO IOWA AWESOME— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) January 2, 2016
Stanford would have none of it, though, and Hogan unleashed a 42-yard touchdown pass to Rector to make it 45-16 with less than two minutes remaining. As Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports observed, Stanford made quick work of Iowa on that drive:
Well that was efficient, Stanford. Got McCaffrey back in there 1 play to get 100 rushing/100 receiving, then a TD bomb the next play.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) January 2, 2016
Just for good measure, Iowa fumbled the last time it had the ball, and the Cardinal went into victory formation to close out the 45-16 win.
Stanford Football passed along an image from the aftermath of the victory:
Cardinal coach David Shaw put the win in the big-picture context of his team's 2015 season, per ASAPSports.com:
Hard to put into words what this team did today because it's a culmination of what we've been doing kind of all year. Just starting off so slow with a sub-par performance at Northwestern. And, once again, give Northwestern a lot of credit. They played better than we did that day. But the senior leadership coming like we needed them to, and we went back to work and worked so hard all year and got ourselves to the point where we're here, but not being satisfied. And that explosion that you felt in the beginning of the game was these guys coming and just wanting to play so well and playing so hard and playing together.
We didn't talk about it too much, but we played so well this year and enjoyed the process so much that we tried not to talk about this being the last game, but the guys wanted to go out with a bang, and they did.
McCaffrey went out with a bang, but he said he didn’t play with a chip on his shoulder because he lost out on the Heisman, per ASAPSports.com:
No, I mean, you talk to so many great players and great players always play with a chip on their shoulder no matter if they have a reason to or not. I'm someone who believes in having motivation at all times, win or lose, individual awards. I play for my teammates. I play for God and my family.
At the end of the day, whether I win anything or don't, that's the reason why I play and that keeps me motivated.
The Hawkeyes looked lost from the initial play from scrimmage when McCaffrey busted free for the long touchdown. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz commented on that score, per ASAPSports.com:
In the first place, it was a big play certainly. We had a similar situation to that in 2009 at Penn State. They hit an 80-yard pass on us right off the bat. But we came back ask won the football game. Just like this game won't define this team. One play doesn't define a game. We had ample opportunity after that to play. But to put it on that would really diminish the way they played. They played a tremendous game in all phases.
Iowa defensive back Jordan Lomax also discussed McCaffrey, per ASAPSports.com: “McCaffrey, he's a great running back. Everybody saw that today, and everybody's seen it all season long. His ability to elude tackles and stay on his feet. He's just a great player.”
McCaffrey truly is a great player, and he plays for a great team. That talent disparity between the playmaker and the opposing Hawkeyes was evident Friday.
One has to wonder what could have been if the Cardinal did not lose to either Oregon or Northwestern this season. They could have been one of the four teams fighting for a national championship, and would've been a worthy challenger.
And with McCaffrey coming back next year, not only should Stanford possess the best player in the country, but the Cardinal possess an opportunity to compete for a national title.