On a night when Derrick Henry and Deshaun Watson made their Heisman Trophy statements, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey would need a big night to stay in the conversation — not to mention beat USC and win a Pac-12 Championship. He did both, and then some.
The all-purpose maven compiled 461 yards and led his seventh-ranked Cardinal to a 41-22 win over No. 20 USC in the Pac-12 Championship Saturday night in Santa Clara, Calif. The win gives Stanford its third Pac-12 championship in four years and — at worst — sends the Cardinal to its 15th Rose Bowl.
McCaffrey’s 461 yards on the night were enough to push him to 3,496 on the season, surpassing Barry Sanders‘ single-season FBS record of 3,250 all-purpose yards set in 1988. And he did it while playing with Sanders’ namesake son in his own backfield.
In a first half claimed 13-3 by Stanford, McCaffrey provided the game’s only touchdown with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Hogan on the first play of the second quarter. USC charged to the lead over the first 10 minutes of the second half thanks to a Cody Kessler touchdown pass to Jahleel Penner and a 27-yard Ronald Jones run.
Faced with its first deficit of the game, the Cardinal turned to McCaffrey and he delivered. After two rushes for four yards, Hogan found McCaffrey for a 67-yard snatch-and-dash, taking the ball from the Stanford 26 to the USC 7. Hogan scored one play later to put the Cardinal on top — for good.
Solomon Thomas gave Stanford a firm hold on the ensuing possession when he returned a Kessler fumble 34 yards for a touchdown, giving the Cardinal a 27-16 lead with four seconds to play in the third quarter.
After a Kessler touchdown run pulled the Trojans within five at 27-22, McCaffrey again answered with a six-yard receptions, runs of six, eight, five and three yards and, finally, a 28-yard touchdown reception.
McCaffrey added a rushing score, this time from 10 yards out, to put the game away for good with 1:38 remaining and give him three scores by way of three different avenues. The sophomore closed the night with 32 carries for 207 yards and a touchdown, four receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown, an 11-yard touchdown pass, five kickoff returns for 120 yards, two punt returns for 29 yards and, if the voters do their jobs correctly, a plane ticket to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.