2015 Pac-12 Football Championship Game: McCaffrey propels Stanford to title with record performance
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Christian McCaffrey's historic night helped Stanford beat USC 41-22 in Saturday's 2015 Pac-12 Championship Game.
The Cardinal, ranked 7th in the most recent College Football Playoff poll, certainly looked like one of the four best teams in the country on Saturday night.
They definitely have one of the best players in the game.
McCaffrey, unphased by the big stage of a championship game, set record after record on the night.
His 461 all-purpose yards set Stanford's single-game record, and set a new Pac-12 Championship Game standard. McCaffrey's peformance in the first half alone pushed him past Barry Sanders for the all-time NCAA all-purpose yards in a single season, surpassing the previous mark of 3,250.
"There's nobody in the nation doing what he's doing," Stanford coach David Shaw said.
"That's a huge honor," McCaffrey said of surpassing Sanders. That's a guy I had posters on my wall of growing up, so to have my name mentioned even in the same category as him is definitely an honor."
McCaffrey was racking up yards from the opening kick.
After a 31-yard return by the sophomore on the opening kickoff, the Cardinal marched down the field in dominating fashion. But a costly holding penalty and a solid stand from the Trojan defense held Stanford to just a field goal, and they ended the first quarter with a 3-0 lead.
[Related video: Hogan on the Cardinal's commitment in 2015]
The Cardinal opened the second quarter by finally breaking into the end zone. A McCaffrey 11-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Hogan (yes, you read that right) put Stanford up 10-0, and a a 23-yard field goal from Conrad Ukropina made it 13-0 with eight and a half minutes left in the first half.
The Trojans offense finally began to click in its final drive before the half. Cody Kessler drove his team down the field, including a big sideline catch by Juju Smith-Schuster. A 40-yard field goal with ten seconds left put USC on the board heading into halftime.
USC received the opening second-half kickoff and looked like a completely new Trojan team.
Kessler and the men of Troy went 65 yards down the field, ending the drive with a nine-yard touchdown pass from Kessler to Jahleel Pinner. A blocked extra point made it 13-9.
USC head coach Clay Helton praised his team's halftime adjustments. "The kids were great at halftime. They knew that all they had to do was do their job, and they came right back out in that third quarter and really produced."
After forcing a Stanford punt, USC wasted no time taking the lead, this time on a 27-yard touchdown run from Ronald Jones II. It seemed like all the momentum had shifted to the Trojans sideline.
And then McCaffrey went back to doing McCaffrey things -- and building his Heisman resume.
Hogan hit him with a 67-yard pass to set up a seven-yard scoring run on a quarterback keeper to give Stanford back the lead. On USC’s next drive, Blake Martinez sacked Kessler, forcing a fumble. Solomon Thomas picked up the ball for the 42-yard scoop-and-score, making it a two-score game for the Cardinal.
"Defensively, we knew we were gonna have to make a game-breaking play," Shaw said. "At some point, somebody's gonna have to get a turnover, force a fumble, get an interception. Great job by Blake Martinez. Great job by Solomon Thoms picking it up. Great play."
[Related video: Shaw on Cardinal's resilience, McCaffrey's Heisman candidacy]
USC’s offense wouldn’t quit, though, and Kessler led another long drive down the field before taking the ball to the house himself and closing the score to 27-22 Stanford. But the Hogan-and-McCaffrey combination could not be stopped. The Cardinal began a drive at its own 25 yard-line and capped it off with a 28-yard touchdown pass from the quarterback to McCaffrey, making it 34-22 and pushing the game out of reach for the Trojans.
McCaffrey finished with 207 rushing yards, 105 receiving yards, and 149 yards on kick returns. The Castle Rock, Colo. native learns whether or not he's headed to Manhattan for the December 12 Heisman Ceremony on Monday night.
Stanford will learn its fate sooner. The CFP Selection Commitee announces it's final rankings including the top four teams playing for the national championship starting at 9 a.m. PT Sunday.
Stanford earned its third Pac-12 title since the Conference adopted a Championship Game in 2011. The Pac-12 North is 5-0.
For the Trojans, it was a disappointing end to their first-ever appearance in the Pac-12 Championship Game, and Clay Helton's first official game as head coach. But it's an experience they'll learn from.
"We're very grateful to be here in this championship game," Helton said. "These guys are starting to play for each other, and that's what I'm most proud of in the whole thing. I reminded them in that lockerroom just to remember what this pain feels like because it's our goal to be right back here."