Stanford throttles Iowa in decisive Rose Bowl victory
PASADENA -- On paper, the 102nd Rose Bowl Game was primed to be one of the closest match-ups of the 2015 college football postseason. It was, after all, a team who went 12-0 during the regular season against a Pac-12 champion that boasted the nation's most dynamic player.
It was going to be your classic battle between the Big Ten and Pac-12, nestled in the splendor of New Year's Day in Arroyo Seco.
And then, they played 11 seconds of football.
Eleven seconds of action was all it took for Christian McCaffrey to take a short pass from Kevin Hogan 75 yards to this venerable stadium's south end zone, sparking an absolute runaway in the 2016 version of the Granddaddy of Them All. Stanford's 35 first-half points catapulted them to a 45-16 victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes, the program's 2nd Rose Bowl victory in four years.
[HIGHLIGHTS: Stanford routs Iowa to capture Rose Bowl title]
"This is an unbelievable feeling for us, for our team and our community," McCaffrey said after posting a Rose Bowl-record 368 all-purpose yards and earning Offensive MVP honors. "(I) couldn't be more thankful to be part of a group that's Rose Bowl champs."
Stanford's unrelenting offensive attack came from all angles, but it would be an understatement to say that the 2015 Heisman Trophy runner-up was the driving force. McCaffrey put up a staggering 248 all-purpose yards in the first half alone, punctuated by both his game-opening touchdown and a 63-yard punt return that put Stanford up 28-0 in the quarter and silenced Iowa's sizable cheering section.
McCaffrey's dominance has not been an uncommon sight for Pac-12 observers in 2015, but it was extra-special feat to do it on the grandest of New Year's Day stages.
"He's having the best season that any skill position player has ever had in the history of the game," Stanford head coach David Shaw said. "The stats and numbers speak for it."
The Cardinal's offensive efficiency was as swift as it was stunning in a 35-point first half. Hogan followed up his strike to McCaffrey with an 8-yard touchdown run of his own. And in one of the more bizarre moments the Rose Bowl has ever seen, Hogan pretended to fumble the football on a dropback before tossing a 31-yard touchdown pass to Michael Rector to put Stanford up by five touchdowns with more than 2 1/2 quarters to play.
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After the game, Shaw said that the inspiration for the trick play came from Washington head coach Chris Petersen's time at Boise State and that he'd been looking for a place to run it for himself.
"That's been in the works for six years," Shaw said. "It's one of those things when you talk about it and everybody says, 'No, we can't do that.'
"Then we look at it again and say, 'Gosh, that could be really good.'"
Not to be overlooked was the performance of Stanford's defense and special teams. Freshman Quenton Meeks announced his arrival to the Rose Bowl with a 66-yard pick six with 4:07 left in the 1st quarter, while McCaffrey's punt return touchdown 48 seconds in to the 2nd quarter left Nerd Nation's fans delirious and Iowa's fans with their mouths agape.
The swarming Cardinal defense left Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard scrambling all day, while their front seven was airtight against an Iowa rushing attack that was averaging 192 yards per game on the ground. Stanford sacked the Hawkeyes signal caller seven times, while a trio of their running backs was limited to just 48 rushing yards.
"It's really the whole defense (who) played a great job today," Rose Bowl Defensive MVP Aziz Shittu said. "It feels awesome...to see all your hard work come and to be able to walk away with some hardware."
Hogan didn't have to throw the ball a lot to be masterful in his final performance for Stanford, throwing for 233 yards and accounting for four touchdowns en route to winning his second Rose Bowl as the team's starter.
And in fitting fashion, the last pass of his Stanford career was a picture-perfect 42-yard touchdown connection with Michael Rector - a tremendous exclamation point for both this victory and his career.
Even in victory, though, the man who will go down as one of the best to ever throw passes for Stanford University was at a loss for words.
"I don't know what I'm supposed to say," Hogan said. When his coach nudged him, he responded, "It feels great to be Rose Bowl champs."
Stanford's man under center is one of numerous seniors who saw their career's come to a triumphant conclusion in Pasadena Friday night. But the one guy who is definitely coming back is McCaffrey, likely as a Heisman frontrunner going into 2016.
"His heart and his determination is evident in every single practice and every single game," Shaw said. "He's leading by example and showing guys how to work and push themselves because that's what great players do."
It's not what great players do alone, though, as Stanford showed all season long. It's what great teams do.
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