Tyler Gaffney wins Football Championship Game MVP
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Arizona State Sun Devils made a statement on the first play in Saturday's Pac-12 Championship. They dropped running back Tyler Gaffney behind the line of scrimmage on Stanford's first offensive play. The Cardinal only added to the noise in Sun Devil Stadium by getting a false start on second down.
Then, all that was washed away.
Gaffney took a handoff and, sweeping to the left side of the field, tip-toed the sideline en route to a 69-yard touchdown run less than two minutes into the game. A play that was inches from being out of bounds instead set the tone for a 38-14 Stanford win.
"Close only counts in horseshoes," Gaffney said of the big play.
It was only the beginning for Gaffney's big night. The senior took home the Pac-12 Championship MVP award by taking 22 carries for 133 yards and three touchdowns. Stanford coach David Shaw described Gaffney as the "heartbeat" of the team after the game.
"Gaffney, you just watch him play, and play-after-play he gets stronger, he gets stronger, he gets stronger, he just drags guys," Shaw said. "And guys start rallying around him. Receivers start blocking because they know any play can be a big play. He set the tone for us."
Gaffney credited the offensive line for opening things up early in a game that the Cardinal won in the trenches. Stanford outgained Arizona State 517-333 on the night, and by playing with the lead, the Cardinal could win the way Shaw wanted -- by pounding the ball inside and then picking spots to take shots downfield with quarterback Kevin Hogan or with outside runs by Gaffney.
Gaffney spent last season playing minor league baseball. He watched the Cardinal play in last year's Rose Bowl from the stands. This year, he'll be on the field and leading Stanford against Michigan State on New Year's Day.
"This is exactly why you come back," Gaffney said. "This is what you play for."