BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Stanford’s midseason slump is becoming a distant memory now that Christian McCaffrey is healthy once again and the Cardinal are finishing the season in typical fashion with another Big Game win.
McCaffrey’s 90-yard touchdown run highlighted a record-setting 284-yard rushing performance that led Stanford to its seventh straight win in the rivalry game, 45-31 over California on Saturday.
After struggling to move the ball at all during a stretch of three losses in four games back in October when McCaffrey was slowed by an undisclosed injury, the Cardinal (8-3, 6-3 Pac-12) have hit their stride late in the season.
“We’ve definitely had some ups and downs,” McCaffrey said. “To see where we are now gives us a lot of hope going into each week knowing that we can play and get into a rhythm and really hurt some people in the run game.”
McCaffrey broke his own single-game rushing record at Stanford of 243 yards and the Big Game record of 226 yards set by Cal’s Joe Igber in 2002 to help the Cardinal (8-3, 6-3 Pac-12) keep the coveted Axe with yet another win over their rival.
Stanford matched the longest win streak in the rivalry that dates back to 1892. The Cardinal also won seven straight against Cal (4-7, 2-6) from 1995-2001.
“Any time you win the Big Game, it’s a fun one, not only for this team but for this school,” quarterback Keller Chryst said.
Davis Webb threw for 393 yards and two touchdowns and Tre Watson ran for two scores for the Golden Bears, who are assured of a fifth losing season in the past six years and will miss out on a bowl bid unless there are not enough six-win teams to fill all the slots.
“Our margin of error is very slim,” Webb said. “The games we win we don’t really mess up, and the games we lose we mess up. It’s not that hard. We just have to get better.”
The game started well for Cal, which stopped Stanford on the opening drive and then scored on its first offensive play on a 70-yard pass from Webb to Chad Hansen.
Stanford tied the game two plays later on a 16-yard run by Chryst and took control early in the third quarter when McCaffrey burst through the middle for his long touchdown run that was one of his three scoring runs in the game.
“That was the big momentum thing at that point,” Cal coach Sonny Dykes said. “Stanford had the momentum and we just never seemed to be able to get it back.”
Stanford: The biggest reasons for Stanford’s turnaround have been a healthy McCaffrey, who has rushed for 787 yards and scored 10 TDs in a four-game winning streak, and Chryst. After struggling early on as Ryan Burns’ replacement, Chryst has been much improved of late. He threw for 198 yards and two TDs against Cal, giving him 456 yards passing and five touchdowns the past two weeks.
California: After a promising start to the season with two wins over ranked teams, the Bears are headed for another losing campaign because of the same problems that have plagued the program ever since Dykes took over as coach in 2013. The defense has struggled to stop anyone, allowing 51.3 points per game while losing five of the past six contests. The run defense, which came into the game ranked second to last in FBS allowing 283.4 yards per game, was even worse against McCaffrey and the Cardinal. Stanford finished with 357 yards.
McCaffrey has scored on long runs the past two weeks, following up his 61-yarder at Oregon with the 90-yarder this week as Stanford has taken advantage of defenses stacking the box to stop the run.
“If we can secure those guys and get him through the first level, he’s got a clear path to the end zone,” Coach David Shaw said. “Strike up the band and bring on the PAT.”
Cal’s 310-pound fullback Malik McMorris got involved in the passing game for the first time. He caught a short pass and rumbled for a 20-yard gain to set up one TD and added a 6-yard catch later in the game.
Stanford: Host Rice on Saturday to finish the regular season.
California: Host UCLA on Saturday to finish the regular season.