McCaffrey prepares for possible final home game for Stanford
STANFORD, Calif. (AP) Stanford tight end Dalton Schultz saw Christian McCaffrey run the football earlier than most. Their high school teams played twice, and Schultz said he and his teammates were helpless to stop McCaffrey.
''Our entire defensive game plan was structured around him. He tore our defense up,'' Schultz said. ''I remember one play he broke like six tackles and went 99 yards.''
Stanford fans hope to see something memorable Saturday when the Cardinal (8-3) face Rice (3-8) in what could be McCaffrey's final home game. When asked this week if he expects to enter the 2017 NFL draft, the junior running back said only: ''I'm just focused on Rice right now, bringing the juice and sending the seniors out the right way.''
Cardinal coach David Shaw said the two plan to discuss the matter after Stanford's bowl game.
Whatever McCaffrey decides won't be soon enough to help Rice. The Owls have won their past two games, but coach David Bailiff knows a serious challenge awaits at Stanford Stadium.
''We better tackle well this week. He's an amazing back. We've all seen him on TV,'' Bailiff said. ''He's not just an amazing back. He catches the ball well. Everything he does he's incredible at. Kick returns, punt returns; he can do it all.''
McCaffrey, the 2015 Heisman Trophy runner-up after rushing for more than 2,000 yards and setting an FBS record for all-purpose yards, is coming off a 284-yard performance against rival Cal. He has rushed for 807 yards the past four games.
Schultz said blocking for McCaffrey is much more fun than trying to tackle him. He particularly enjoyed McCaffrey's 90-yard TD run against Cal during which he eluded three would-be tacklers at the line of scrimmage.
''Just knowing if you stay on that block an extra half a second something good's going to come out of it,'' Schultz said. ''You don't have to be perfect, he gives you a little leeway.''
Things to watch for when Stanford faces Rice:
Shaw said Stanford's early-season stumbles continue to provide fuel and should motivate the Cardinal even as a heavy favorite against Rice.
“Hopefully we have that feeling of still trying to make up for lost time,'' said Shaw, whose team has won its past four games after a 4-3 start. ''The real opponent for us is making sure we play better this week than we did last week.''
RICE DEFENSE RISES UP
Bailiff is hoping for a repeat of the Owls defensive efforts the past two weeks, when they allowed just 21 and 24 points in wins over Charlotte and UTEP. He was especially excited that Rice held Miners running back Aaron Jones to 75 rushing yards after he'd topped 200 each of his two previous games.
''Defensively, I think it was the finest defensive performance that I've seen maybe since I've been here,'' he said. ''We only had four missed tackles on the day so we tackled exceptionally well.''
TOUGH AT HOME
Not much tilts in Rice's direction in this one. Stanford is 10-0 in non-conference home games under Shaw and has won 15 straight games at home outside the Pac-12 dating to a 2007 loss to Notre Dame. Then there's this: After struggling on offense for much of the season, the Cardinal have found their groove. With junior Keller Chryst now playing quarterback and McCaffrey fully healthy, Stanford has totaled more than 500 yards of offense in three straight games for the first time since 2011.
Rice freshman quarterback Jackson Tyner, who had thrown just five passes all season before starting last week, now faces one of the nation's most physical defenses. Tyner was thrust into action when starter Tyler Stehling went down with a knee injury. Tyner responded by going 18 for 25 for 196 yards with two touchdowns and an interception against UTEP.
''Jackson Tyner stepped in and did an incredible job,'' Bailiff said. ''It was a great, great effort by him. He had an interception, but he made wise decisions with the football.''
WHY THIS GAME ON THIS DATE
Stanford customarily faces Notre Dame in the final regular-season game in odd-numbered years, but that leaves the Cardinal with scheduling issues in the even-numbered years. The contract between the schools called for the game to be played in Week 2, but Rice agreed to move it to the end of the schedule so Stanford wouldn't finish a week earlier than everyone else. The move also created an early bye that prevented the Cardinal from having to play 12 consecutive weeks.