PASADENA, Calif. – The first time Christian McCaffrey touched the ball in the 102nd Rose Bowl, he took it 75 yards for a spectacular touchdown. A few hundred yards later, Stanford’s sophomore star had smashed the oldest bowl game’s record for all-purpose offense while leading the Cardinal to a blowout win over Iowa.
Sure, McCaffrey didn’t win the Heisman Trophy, and Stanford barely missed out on the College Football Playoff.
McCaffrey and the mighty Cardinal are still headed into the new year with the Pac-12 champions’ most-coveted postseason trophy – and the brightest of futures.
McCaffrey caught a touchdown pass on the opening snap and returned a punt 66 yards for another score while racking up 368 all-purpose yards, propelling No. 5 Stanford to a 45-16 victory over the sixth-ranked Hawkeyes on Friday.
Three-time Rose Bowl starter Kevin Hogan passed for 223 yards and three TDs in his final game for the Cardinal (12-2) as this unlikely Bay Area football powerhouse won the Granddaddy of Them All for the second time in three trips over the past four years.
“It’s so fun when a team can come together,” McCaffrey said. “We’ve got a bunch of fighters on this team that will never give up. Just love playing with these guys.”
McCaffrey was sublime in his Rose Bowl debut, breaking the all-purpose yards record set by Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis in 2012. McCaffrey finished second behind Alabama’s Derrick Henry in the Heisman voting, but the speedy running back left no doubt about his brilliance with one of the most dynamic performances in the Rose Bowl’s lengthy history.
“I think he was the best player in America before this game, so I think it’s just the icing on the cake,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “I do think it’s a shame that a lot of people didn’t get to see him during the course of the year. Apparently the games were too late.”
The world was wide awake to see McCaffrey in Pasadena – and he scored 11 seconds in. Hogan’s opening throw to McCaffrey was the second-longest TD pass in Rose Bowl history and the longest play given up all season by the stingy Iowa defense.
McCaffrey finished with 172 yards rushing, 105 yards receiving and 91 on kick returns, putting an appropriate cap on the season in which he set the NCAA record for all-purpose yards. He also became the first player to rack up more than 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving in a Rose Bowl – and he even became the single-season rushing leader in Stanford history with 2,109 yards on the ground.
“No one doubted that he was going to do that, and I have the best vantage point in the stadium,” Hogan said of McCaffrey. “He’s a special player. He plays with a chip on his shoulder. He does it all.”
Stanford and Iowa finished in the final two spots outside the College Football Playoff field, but the Cardinal showed they belong among the best with their 12th win in their final 13 games.
With a powerful offensive line and a sturdy defense, they also ruined the first trip to Pasadena in 25 years for the Hawkeyes (12-2), who followed up their remarkable 12-0 regular season with two postseason losses.
C.J. Beathard passed for 239 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns for the Hawkeyes, whose thousands of fans proudly filling the venerable stadium with old gold and black. The faithful had painfully little to cheer after Iowa fell behind in the opening seconds, putting a daylong damper on Kirk Ferentz’s first Rose Bowl after 17 years as a head coach.
The Hawkeyes couldn’t come back after Hogan hit McCaffrey with a TD pass down the middle just 11 seconds in.
“Just like this game won’t define this team, one play doesn’t define a game,” Ferentz said. “We had ample opportunity after that to play, but they played a tremendous game in all phases.”
The Cardinal had the highest-scoring first quarter and first half in the Rose Bowl’s lengthy history. After McCaffrey’s opening TD, Hogan rushed for an 8-yard score and Quenton Meeks returned an interception 66 yards for another TD in the first 11 minutes.
Iowa had never trailed by more than seven points at any point in its magical season, which included the first 12-0 start in school history before a narrow loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game.
The rout was really on after McCaffrey made his 63-yard TD return in the opening minute of the second, juking Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell on the way.
Michael Rector caught two touchdown passes for Stanford, which beat Wisconsin in the 2013 Rose Bowl and lost to Michigan State two years ago in the 100th edition.
Stanford even got creative – or cruel, depending on your perspective. Hogan appeared to fake a fumble in the second quarter before popping up and throwing to an untouched Rector for a 31-yard score making it 35-0 at halftime.
The play has a name: Hawkeye.
Iowa avoided a shutout on Marshall Koehn’s 39-yard field goal late in the third quarter, prompting huge cheers and a confetti shower from the Hawkeyes’ band. Matt VandeBerg and Akrum Wadley caught Beathard’s late scoring passes.
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