I hope we learn from last week and don't think that we can just run, run, run to salt away the game. Certainly, the running game has been the mainstay today and the Card should continue to call for No. 5 early and often. But balance is key -- just as it was McCaffrey throwing and catching passes, not handoffs, that set up earlier Cardinal touchdowns, the Card might need to take a few more shots, as up nine to start the fourth, you'd think one more touchdown ought to just about do it.
Adoree Jackson is primarily defensive, but makes an impact on the other side of the ball, running for 27 to start the fourth quarter and looking like one of the best running backs the Trojans have in the process. Now USC is marching downfield right where they left off before Solomon Thomas' scoop and score, quickly to the Cardinal 12 after two more runs move the chains, and then Juju Schuster-Smith catches a bubble screen for five. Then USC comes and takes a page out of Stanford's playbook, as Kevin Anderson bites hard on the zone read and takes out the USC tailback in the backfield. Only problem is that Kessler kept the ball the whole time, and runs 12 yards for a quick score to pull the Trojans back within single digits.
Cardinal stopping Notre Dame's two-point conversion last week quietly won the game, and Stanford might have done the same right here. The Trojans tried to take yet another page out of Stanford's playbook, calling up a halfback throwback to Cody Kessler in an attempt to pull within three. However, you'd think that the Cardinal defense has seen that look more than a few times in practice, with Stanford's offense calling it three times over the last month, including for the game's first touchdown. Everyone stays home, and with nowhere to go with the ball, Tre Madden is dropped ten yards behind the line. Now a Cardinal field goal would make for an eight-point lead.
Stanford 27, USC 22, 12:29 remaining
Su'a Cravens beats Dalton Schultz's block and chops down Bryce Love in the backfield for no gain as Stanford starts its drive. Second down, Hogan fakes left and comes back right to find McCaffrey for a six-yard screen: like the misdirection. Third down, and also love that we are passing it here, and not trying to run into a loaded box: Hogan steps up to avoid the edge rush and then finds Austin Hooper for eight. McCaffrey for six, and he has 173 rushing yards so far as the clock dips under 10 minutes. He takes the next handoff for seven, shedding a would-be tackler in the backfield. McCaffrey now at 400 all-purpose yards on the day!
Hogan keeps for five off a fake to McCaffrey. Then Michael Rector catching for six to move the chains. McCaffrey getting a wonderful advertisement here on ESPN, with the announcers gushing over his productivity on the year for a solid minute or two. Hogan has completed his last six passes, and as McCaffrey runs for five and then another two, the Cardinal are, at worst, in field goal range.
Third and three, what do you call here? I try to roll out Hogan off a playfake to McCaffrey and give No. 8 a run/pass option. What we see instead works rather nicely at a big moment. Hogan steps up to buy time, and the Card are in max protect, with their tailbacks blocking. But McCaffrey slips out of the backfield undetected -- which is rather incredible given his 400-plus yards on the day -- after he realizes there's no one left to block. The rest is just formality. [On replay, Dalton Schultz has a key block to buy McCaffrey more time.]
Barring a remarkable final six minutes, what a fitting drive with which to clinch a Pac-12 title: a healthy dose of pounding the rock, key passes to convert on third downs, and above all, Christian McCaffrey.
Stanford 34, USC 22, 6:33 remaining
McCaffrey's quarterback rating, by the way? 522.4. He now has 442 all-purpose yards. Tellingly, though, Holly Rowe asks the announcers point-blank who they're voting for in the Heisman race, and no one will commit to more than that McCaffrey deserves an invitation to New York. If you flipped the jerseys, and McCaffrey were the Alabama back and Henry the Cardinal back, and both had the same seasons that they've had, I have no doubt that McCaffrey would win in a runaway. Unfair, but the way it is.
Back to live action, USC is down to their last shot at fourth and 17. Steven Mitchell had a opening, with a step on his cornerback and a few yards in front of the Stanford safeties, but Kessler airmailed it. He was nearly picked off twice on this last drive for USC, and fair to wonder if he's at 100 percent after taking that hit from Blake Martinez on Solomon Thomas' scoop and score.
Clemson's up 35-23 and, for what it's worth, Iowa leads Michigan State 13-9. So looking increasingly like a Rose Bowl berth against 12-1 Ohio State, and Lance Anderson's going to spend his Christmas figuring out how in the world to slow down Ezekiel Elliott and a Buckeye attack that sliced through a Michigan front that was statistically the nation's best. Hopefully the month off will help our defense rest up and get healthy.
After three straight McCaffrey runs gain seven yards, USC takes timeout in advance of a fourth and three at the Trojan 30. Cardinal will go for it. Hogan finds Devon Cajuste on a corner route at the 12, now let's get No. 5 one more touchdown for that final Heisman push!
Clock under two minutes as McCaffrey takes a handoff to the Trojan 10. Stanford is going to its third Rose Bowl in the last four years -- not too shabby!
And, yes, McCaffrey has one more touchdown, this one on a 12-yard run, with Brad Nessler specifically complimenting McCaffrey for his patience on the run. ESPN is virtually running a advertisement for him now, and with 461 all-purpose yards, he certainly deserves it. First game of the season with the same player accounting for a rushing, passing and receiving touchdown per the Worldwide Leader.
Stanford 41, USC 22, 1:38 remaining
I'm rooting for Stanford to somehow get McCaffrey over 500 all-purpose yards, which would be once-in-a-generation incredible. Maybe a USC touchdown if they then kick it off deep (though they'd likely onside it)? Jordan Watkins takes a late hit call, appropriately, for nailing Kessler after the ball's out, but maybe he's just trying to give McCaffrey another kickoff return?
McCaffrey will finish with 207 rush yards, 105 receiving, 120 on kickoff returns, 29 on punt returns. The Stanford defense will finish with a sack of USC.
Kevin Hogan and McCaffrey finish with interviews on the field, and McCaffrey quickly points out that Hogan also caught, threw and ran for a touchdown today. The team should jump Ohio State to finish No. 5 in the country, with a shot at as high as No. 2 depending on how January plays out. Bring on the Buckeyes and bring on Pasedena!
Stanford 41, USC 22, Final
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