Well, we all knew Christian McCaffrey could run and catch.
Turns out he can throw pretty well too.
The Colorado native did it all in a triumphant homecoming on Saturday, gaining 220 all-purpose yards as a runner, receiver and returner and also throwing a 28-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter as No. 9 Stanford (8-1, 7-0 Pac-12) took care of business in a 42-10 win over the Colorado Buffaloes (4-6, 1-5) on Saturday in Boulder.
“We had it run in practice and coach gave us the go-ahead,” said McCaffrey about his touchdown pass, which he threw while rolling out right after taking a handoff from quarterback Kevin Hogan to put Stanford up 42-10.
Before the play, Hogan looked at McCaffrey and told him only to throw it if tight end Austin Hooper was wide open.
Hooper nudged McCaffrey afterwards and told him to throw it anyway.
There probably wasn’t ever any doubt in anybody’s mind that McCaffrey was going to throw that ball. Given how the all-purpose dynamo has been tearing through opposing defenses all season, nothing he does on the field surprises anybody anymore — not even his head coach.
“There’s not many positions that the young man can’t play,” said head coach David Shaw. “I would say offensive and defensive line are probably it. He can play middle linebacker, fullback, receiver and quarterback. He’s just one of those phenomenal football players that we’re very fortunate to coach.”
Given the offensive creativity that Stanford showed against Colorado, it wouldn’t even be a surprise at this point if McCaffrey exclusively played fullback or quarterback next Saturday against Oregon.
Apart from the McCaffrey halfback pass, Stanford also scored touchdowns on a highlight-reel end-around handoff to freshman running back Bryce Love after a play-fake, as well as on a play-action pass to sophomore tight end Dalton Schultz out of the heavy “ogre” formation on fourth down as part of its offensive clinic in Boulder.
And through both trick plays and classic, dominate-the-lines Stanford football, the Cardinal outgained the potent Colorado offense 472-231, converted a whopping 10 of their 16 third downs and scored on all but two of their possessions before garbage time.
“[Colorado] made a lot of things very difficult,” Shaw said. “The score doesn’t look like it, but we had to come with reverses and trick plays because we thought they were very sound, fought very hard and were very physical.”
With the win, Stanford is 7-0 in conference play for just the third time in program history and only needs to win one of its two remaining conference games (against Oregon and Cal) to clinch the Pac-12 North title and a spot in the Pac-12 Championship on Dec. 5.
Speaking of history, Hogan became the winningest quarterback in Stanford history with his 32nd win as the Cardinal’s starter, passing Andrew Luck (31 wins) for the crown. He also tied Steve Stenstrom for the program’s all-time lead in games started at quarterback, with 42.
And while we’re on the topic of records, McCaffrey, with his 147 rushing yards, also tied Toby Gerhart’s all-time program record with his seventh straight game of over 100 yards rushing.
“He’s a special player,” Hogan said. “Makes my job so much easier and makes everyone’s job so much easier.”
Hogan also had a quietly efficient day himself, going 17-of-23 for 169 yards and 2 touchdowns while threading some throws into tight windows in a nice bounce-back effort from a rough outing against Washington State a week ago. He also added a rushing touchdown on a broken play in the second half, continuing to demonstrate impressive mobility that has changed the scope of the Stanford offense over the last two weeks.
And while the offense was its usual efficient self, the defense also had a monster day, limiting a Colorado offense that played excellently against UCLA a week ago to just 231 yards — including just 83 on the ground — and an abysmal 2-of-11 conversion rate on third downs.
Although the defense had a hard time pressuring Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau on the Buffaloes’ opening drive, in which the team drove 75 yards for a touchdown, the Cardinal front eventually wore down the Buffaloes’ patchwork offensive line and started to pressure Liufau into mistakes.
“They had a really tough offense to stop with a running quarterback, a really tough [running] back and a receiver that makes all kinds of plays,” Shaw said.
Junior outside linebacker Mike Tyler led the way with 2 sacks, while fifth-year senior outside linebacker Kevin Anderson added a sack as well — his second since returning from an injury last week. Sophomore Solomon Thomas added 3 tackles for loss as well.
The eventual pressure forced Colorado’s quarterbacks into key mistakes that led to turnovers: Both senior safety Dallas Lloyd and freshman safety Justin Reid recorded their first career interceptions in the game to keep Colorado’s offense from extending drives.
Just a week after possessing the ball for 41 minutes against UCLA, the Colorado offense was held to just 22 minutes of possession against Stanford, reflecting both Stanford’s ability to extend its own drives and Colorado’s uncharacteristic inability to move the chains.
“The difference in the game was them making third downs and us not,” said Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre. “If we could have got them out on a few third downs and we could have made a few, it would have been a little bit different.”
It didn’t look to be that way at first, though, as the game started out relatively evenly matched due to Colorado’s surprising strength on both its offensive and defensive lines.
Although Stanford drove 81 yards on 15 plays to score a Remound Wright touchdown on its opening possession, Colorado immediately answered, driving 75 yards on six plays to answer with a touchdown of its own.
However, the tide turned on two key plays in the second quarter.
With Colorado’s defensive line making a strong stand with a tackle for loss and sack on consecutive plays to force a third-and-18, Stanford answered back with a 43-yard touchdown pass from Hogan to senior receiver Michael Rector on a simple go route down the sideline to regain the lead at 14-7.
“[Colorado’s defenders] were pressing, so I gave [Rector] a go route and he got around [the corner], stacked him and made a play,” Hogan said.
On the ensuing drive, Colorado again drove 60 yards downfield but missed a 37-yard field goal to kill any offensive momentum that it had. After the missed kick, only one of Colorado’s eight drives resulted in points for the Buffaloes.
Stanford’s offense, meanwhile, never missed a beat.
After capping off another classic Stanford drive (12 plays, 80 yards, 6:23 possession) with the play-action touchdown to Schultz on fourth down, the Cardinal took advantage of Lloyd’s interception to score again on Hogan’s scramble, with time expiring in the second quarter, to take a 28-7 lead into the half.
While Colorado scored a field goal to open the second half, an onside kick recovery by Stanford led to Love’s rushing touchdown, during which he broke a tackle in the backfield, made a cut and hit the seam with unbelievable breakaway speed.
And finally, after a Hogan interception was returned deep into Stanford territory, the Cardinal’s defense held firm on fourth down in the red zone to set up one final 95-yard scoring drive, punctuated by McCaffrey’s passing touchdown to Hooper, to conclude the afternoon.
“Until the game was out of reach, we were going to be in attack mode,” Shaw said. “That’s the mentality of our coaching staff and players. We’re not going to worry about the scoreboard. Whatever the defense dictates we do, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Unfortunately for the Cardinal, the cost of victory was painfully steep: The Cardinal lost defensive backs Alijah Holder and Brandon Simmons and wide receiver Devon Cajuste to injury at various points in the game.
Although Cajuste’s injury seemed serious at first, Shaw later said he was concussion-free and had a strained muscle. Holder will continue to undergo concussion testing over the coming days.
The injuries might present another hurdle for the Cardinal to overcome, but this team has had to persevere through many challenges to get to where it is now — the driver’s seat of the Pac-12 North — and this win over Colorado, no matter how lopsided the score, was just another installment of that saga.
And again, the team prevailed.
“A ranked team going against an unranked team on the road with an early kickoff — it’s the exact same scenario as [the Northwestern loss],” Shaw said. “We put the challenge to the seniors, and the guys responded.”
Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.