PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — 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 63 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.
“I wouldn’t say I was in shock, (but) it was like, ‘Dang, already?’ ” Stanford left tackle Kyle Murphy said. “I knew they haven’t seen a player of his caliber all year, someone with speed like that. With all the Heisman stuff, he felt really snubbed. He’s not going to say anything about it, but all of us, we know. He’s the best player in the country. It lit a fire under him, although he’s already the hardest-working man and most motivated man.”
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.
“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 filled 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.
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McCaffrey lives up to billing as ‘rare talent’
Stanford had no secrets about which weapon it intended on using in Friday’s 45-16 victory over Iowa. Christian McCaffrey finished as the Heisman runner-up, and the sophomore immediately showed why.
On the first play from scrimmage, the do-it-all running back sprinted past several Hawkeyes for a 75-yard touchdown reception.
McCaffrey finished with a Rose Bowl-record 368 all-purpose yards and brought his season total to an FBS all-time high of 3,864. His 277 yards on 22 touches from scrimmage were just 10 shy of Iowa’s 287.
“He is a great player and he earned that trip to New York,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It’s impossible to duplicate that out there on the practice field. We don’t have anybody like that. He’s a rare talent.”
McCaffrey found the end zone again on a 63-yard punt return to stretch Stanford’s lead to 28-0 in the second quarter. The bowl win was the sixth time McCaffrey broke 300 all-purpose yards this season, putting him just one shy of the rest of the FBS combined.
Bowl struggles continue
Ferentz reinvented himself for the 2015 regular season, but the longest-tenured coach in college football may need to reevaluate his postseason preparation.
Friday was the fourth consecutive bowl game that Iowa came out of the gates uncompetitive. The previous three times, the Hawkeyes trailed by scores of 21-0 to Oklahoma, 14-0 to LSU and 28-0 to Tennessee. All three ended in Hawkeye losses.
Friday, Iowa fell into a 38-0 hole before joining Stanford on the scoreboard. The Cardinal scored their first four touchdowns on just 12 offensive plays, partially thanks to a 56-yard interception return by Quenton Meeks that extended the lead to 21.
“Thirteen times they’ve prepared well and competed hard. Today, it just didn’t work out for us,” Ferentz said. “Obviously, I’m very proud of the way guys have done things, and it goes back 12 months. This game hurts. We’ll learn from it, we’ll move on and we’ll improve.”
Ferentz is now 6-7 in bowl games at Iowa after winning six of his first nine. Iowa had won three in a row before the recent four-game skid.
Stanford scores in all phases
Stanford was a whole new type of opponent for the Hawkeyes, and the outlying score proves that.
Iowa hadn’t allowed a punt return touchdown or a pick-six all season and never once trailed by more than seven. The Cardinal scored both ways and held a 38-0 lead early in the second half — more points than Iowa had allowed to any opponent.
The Hawkeyes also hadn’t relinquished a 30-yard pass since their 10th game. Stanford ended that streak on the first play from scrimmage. Ferentz didn’t use the opening play as an excuse for his squad deflating.
“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 to put it on that would really diminish the way (Stanford) played. They played a tremendous game in all phases.”
Iowa didn’t fare much better offensively. Stanford stifled a potent Hawkeye running game. Iowa barely eclipsed a yard per rush average, finishing with 48 yards on 38 carries.
“We didn’t get it going offensively,” senior offensive lineman Austin Blythe said. “Stanford played a good defensive game, and we didn’t get anything going until the end there. At that point, it was way too late.”
Still a ‘great year’ for Hawks
Iowa won a school-record 12 games, reached its first Big Ten title game and traveled to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 25 years. A loss in a classic game to Michigan State and the Pasadena drubbing cannot take that away, and that’s how the Hawkeyes chose to look at the last four months.
“It was a very great year for us,” senior defensive back Jordan Lomax said. “The togetherness and maturity within this group and the camaraderie and being able to play under Coach Ferentz has been a huge honor. It’s just been an awesome year.”
Although Ferentz was on the hot seat only a season ago, the players showed a strong respect for the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year recipient.
“It’s been an unbelievable year with the group of guys we’ve got,” Blythe said. “Playing for these fans, this university and for a coach like Coach Ferentz is second to none.”
Coming back for more
Iowa’s season was a great show with a bad ending. Many of the same characters will reappear in the sequel.
The Hawkeyes return seven offensive starters plus a deep running back stable, and roughly eight defenders depending on the futures of Trumbull, Nebraska, native Drew Ott and Jim Thorpe Award-winning cornerback Desmond King.
Ott is seeking a medical redshirt for a fifth season, and King may make the jump to the NFL but didn’t take questions regarding his future following the Rose Bowl. If both are in Iowa City for 2016, the Hawkeyes will be early favorites to repeat as Big Ten West champions.
Starting quarterback CJ Beathard, who is 13-0 in regular-season starts, may need offseason surgery to repair a lingering groin injury. Beathard’s top target, Matt VandeBerg, will also be back for his senior season.
» James Daniels became the first true freshman to start a bowl game for Iowa since Jordan Canzeri did in the 2011 Insight Bowl. It was the offensive lineman’s second career start.
» Blythe will be a major departure for Iowa. The senior lineman made his 45th consecutive start Friday and is the 12th player to play 50 or more games under Kirk Ferentz.
— Steven Elonich