USC-Stanford grades: Christian McCaffrey makes his Heisman case
Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from Stanford’s 41-22 victory over USC:
–Taking advantage of the limited number of games on championship Saturday, running back Christian McCaffrey (+5.4) rounded off his Heisman résumé with a stunning all-around performance to lead the Cardinal past the Trojans, helping to clinch a third Rose Bowl appearance for Stanford in four years in the process. He caught one touchdown from QB Kevin Hogan (+2.4), then threw one to him (yes, you read that right), was dynamic in the return game and outstanding as a runner. McCaffrey broke six tackles en route to a 207-yard rushing game, solidifying himself as the top-graded rusher in our rankings and breaking Barry Sanders’ single-season all-purpose yardage record in the process.
–The defensive effort was led up front by DE Solomon Thomas (+5.2), who turned in his second-highest-graded performance of the season. Thomas got the better of USC center Nico Falah (-6.1) all night in the run and pass games, registering three pressures along with two stops in the run game. While the Cardinal have not been able to replace the departed Henry Anderson and David Parry fully this season, Thomas has been a standout on the defensive line and come closest to replacing those guys against the run, in particular.
–The guard and center pairing of Joshua Garnett (+1.4) and Graham Shuler (+2.7) has been a strength of the Stanford offense all season, and so they were again last night. While other members of the offensive line had up-and-down nights, Garnett and Shuler got the better of their matchups, with Shuler in particular consistently working well at the second level to neutralize the Trojans’ inside linebackers.
RB Christian McCaffrey (+5.4)
DE Solomon Thomas (+5.2)
TE Austin Hooper (+2.8)
C Graham Shuler (+2.7)
QB Kevin Hogan (+2.4)
–The key matchup for the Trojans last night was to shut down McCaffrey. They didn’t achieve that, but that was through no fault of Su’a Cravens (+5.9). He turned in a terrific game in run defense — he just didn’t have much help in that area from his teammates. Cravens made an early statement, beating a crack block to take down Kevin Hogan for a seven-yard loss on Stanford’s opening drive, but much of the rest of his night was spent disrupting the Stanford running game, leaving others to make the plays that they couldn’t consistently come up with.
–Entering this game on a streak of six straight positively graded performances, QB Cody Kessler (-2.4) had the chance to make a statement both as a collegiate quarterback and as an NFL draft prospect, but he came up some way short of his recent form in a disappointing display. Earning only his fourth negatively graded game of the last two seasons, Kessler completed only three of his nine passes targeted 10 or more yards down the field.
–Another strong showing in the USC secondary came from CB Adoree’ Jackson (+3.3), who, after facing three targets in the game’s first 10 minutes, saw more of the ball on offense and special teams thereafter. Jackson didn’t surrender a catch on those three targets, knocking the ball away from Stanford WR Michael Rector deep down the field on the fourth play of the game, cutting off a route by Rollins Stallworth in the end zone to force a field goal on that first drive, and breaking up a pass to Trenton Irwin later in the first quarter. The dominance of McCaffrey ensured that Stanford didn’t have to test Jackson after these early unsuccessful forays into his coverage.
SS Su’a Cravens (+5.9)
CB Adoree’ Jackson (+3.3)
RT Zach Banner (+3.3)
DT Claude Pelon (+3.1)
RB Justin Davis (+2.5)