Stanford became a college football powerhouse behind its power offense.
Formations with nine offensive linemen. An offense that relies on multiple tight ends. A bruising fullback to create holes in the running game.
Coach David Shaw has added a new wrinkle this season: speed.
With Christian McCaffrey running past defenders and into Heisman Trophy consideration and freshman Bryce Love taking advantage of his limited opportunities to deliver big plays in a flash, the Cardinal (9-2) have become more difficult to defend than ever.
“We’ve talked so much about increasing our speed really for the last six or seven years,” Shaw said Tuesday. “To find those guys that can finish plays. We talked a couple years ago about tired of having 20-yard gains, we want 50-yard touchdowns.”
The Cardinal have eight touchdowns of at least 50 yards this season and six more of 40 or more yards, making them a threat to score from almost any part of the field.
McCaffrey and Love are the biggest reason for this added element, providing an added challenge for defenses. The next team to try to slow down the Cardinal, who have scored at least 30 points in 10 straight games, is No. 4 Notre Dame.
“They’ve had speed on the perimeter, and I just think that they’ve got McCaffrey who gives it to them in all phases of the game,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “I think that’s probably the difference on offense.”
McCaffrey leads the nation in all-purpose yards (2,807) and is second in yards rushing (1,546) and hasn’t gotten there at four yards a clip. McCaffrey has four of Stanford’s long touchdowns and several other big plays that ended before the end zone.
“I think that we’re kind of a cliche power football team is what people like to call us and we have so much speed and athleticism on this team, it’s fun to see,” McCaffrey said. “I think it does surprise a lot of defenses.”
McCaffrey has done his damage from a multitude of positions, scoring on long runs from the backfield, passes and even a 98-yard kickoff return in the Big Game against California last week.
“He’s an explosive runner,” offensive lineman Joshua Garnett said. “You just give him one little crease and he’s gone.”
When teams focus on stopping McCaffrey, that’s when Love steps in. Used only sparingly as he learns Stanford’s complex offense, Love’s sprinter speed has added a dangerous element to the offense.
He has three big-play touchdowns and is averaging 11.4 yards on his 37 offensive touches. Love’s latest touchdown came late against Cal when Kevin Hogan faked a handoff to McCaffrey and then gave it to Love on a jet sweep.
Love sprinted 48 yards for the touchdown to seal the win.
“We had been setting them up with run plays with Christian. And then I went out to the slot and running in the same plays with me out there, just to set it up,” Love said. “And then finally, I came in there and got the reverse called and I just ran in. It was open.”
Caffrey and Love are far from alone when it comes to big-play threats for Stanford. Barry Sanders has two long touchdown runs and receiver Michael Rector is a capable deep threat for Hogan. Sophomore receiver Isaiah Brandt-Sims might be the fastest of all but he hasn’t caught a pass yet this season. “I think we have got one heck of a 4×100 team,” Shaw said. “I think it’s truly special.”