Stanford knew it had a star in Ty Montgomery. And, as well as he played – scoring on a punt return and a long pass – he nearly got upstaged by a true freshman in the Cardinal’s 45-0 season-opening football victory at Stanford Stadium on Saturday.
Christian McCaffrey, sired by Stanford football royalty Ed McCaffrey, showed his big-time chops as well. After a stellar camp, there never was any doubt about burning a potential redshirt year for the running back from Castle Rock, Colo. That was evident when he took the field on the coverage unit for the opening kickoff.
Good thing. First, he was force on the kickoffs, making three tackles and a hit that led to another. Next, he was a force on offense, catching a short pass out of the slot and splitting the defense for a 52-yard score on his first collegiate touch. Finally, he was a force on punt returns, sprinting 41 yards in the third quarter.
It was no wonder that even with Montgomery on the sideline, UC Davis learned to continue to punt away. Anything to keep it away from that McCaffrey kid.
“For the record, so everybody knows, I tried to pull him out,” said David Shaw, Stanford’s Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. “I tried to pull him off of kickoff after that long touchdown reception, because he ran such a long way. He looked at me and smiled and said, ‘I’m not coming off.’ He goes down on kickoff and makes the next tackle. That’s the kind of football player he is.”
Stanford extended its national-leading home-winning streak to 17 while earning its first season-opening shutout since 1972.
The Cardinal pummeled the undermanned Aggies -- missing their two top running backs to injuries -- to the tune of a 38-0 halftime lead, and then coasted toward the finish, failing to build much on the lead by missing a field goal try and fumbling twice inside the UC Davis 5. Still, Stanford didn’t allow the Aggies to cross midfield until the game’s final play and held them to 115 total yards – 54 passing and 61 rushing – in Lance Anderson’s first game as defensive coordinator.
The Cardinal left few clues on the evolution of its running attack in replacing the lineage of alpha backs that began with Toby Gerhart and continued with Stepfan Taylor and last year’s workhorse, Tyler Gaffney. Twelve players contributed to Stanford’s 33 carries for 149 yards, with Barry Sanders leading the way with 43 yards on seven carries.
The run-by-committee approach began with a run-by-Kelsey-Young approach as the senior had four of the Cardinal’s six first-quarter carries, for 21 yards. He finished with 37 on seven tries.
“We need to be efficient and we need to be consistent,” Shaw said. “That's the thing with a bunch of new starters, they're all talented, but they need to know that every single play matters. Every single play is vital. And hopefully we've learned from that.”
While the run responsibilities remain unresolved, there was no doubt about Montgomery’s big-play capability. On his, and the team’s, first touch of the season, the senior zigzagged his way to a 60-yard punt return to open the scoring. And the rout was on.
“Ty Montgomery showed everybody what kind of shape he’s in, what kind of talent he is,” Shaw said. “The different things he can do as a runner, receiver, returner … Dynamic playmaker. He’s got a chance to impact every single game.”
Quarterback Kevin Hogan completed a 12-play, 67-yard drive by tucking the ball and diving across the goal-line after coverage denied a possible pass to the deep corner. The one-yard run was one highlight to a strong day by the senior, who completed 12 of 16 passes for passes for 204 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception in barely over a half of work.
His 40-yard scoring pass to Michael Rector on a deep corner route looked too easy, and his short pass that an uncovered McCaffrey turned into a 52-yard scoring play had a trace of spectacular simplicity as well.
Montgomery’s 44-yard touchdown catch on a wide receiver screen made it 35-0. He wasn’t touched. Montgomery finished with five catches for 77 yards, and 159 all-purpose yards. Normally, a kickoff-return specialist, Montgomery was placed on the punt-return unit for the first time, and his touchdown was his first return in that role.
“The only difference in my mind is you don't have the ability to fair catch a kickoff return,” Montgomery said. “But it's the same thing, 10 guys block, find the seam and hit it.”
He also took the snap in the Wildcat formation and ran for eight yards.
“We're going to put him anywhere and everywhere because he's that kind of a player,” Shaw said of the political science major. “And what I love about Ty he's also extremely humble. Wants to help the team wherever the team is, whatever he can do to help the team. He wants to be a complete football player.”
Stanford’s defense had made its case that it’s as strong as ever by stopping UC Davis for no gain or a loss on each play in its opening series. Montgomery’s score seemed to indicate that, yes, it’s another season, but all is well for the two-time defending Pac-12 champion.
Backup quarterback Evan Crower completed the scoring with a 14-yard toss to tight end Austin Hooper, who reached high for the grab and got a foot down in the back of the end zone. Hooper had four catches for 63 yards.
As for McCaffrey, he remained humble after his coming-out party.
“There’s a lot of things I can work on,” he said. “I dropped a punt, I’ve got to fix that.”
Of course, that dropped punt was retrieved for his 41-yard return. It was obvious that McCaffrey plays the game with a passion.
“Definitely,” he said. “You only get one opportunity to play this game. You might as well play as if it is your last.”
The stakes increase next week when the Cardinal plays host to USC in a 12:30 p.m. contest to open the Pac-12 season -- a big game that will say a lot more about Montgomery, McCaffrey and the Cardinal than UC Davis could draw out.