As promised, highly touted freshman running back Christian McCaffrey made his collegiate debut Saturday in 11th-ranked Stanford's 45-0 season-opening victory against UC Davis at sun-splashed Stanford Stadium. And boy, did he make a great first impression.
Not only did McCaffrey shine on special teams, making three tackles on the kickoff coverage unit, he also scored his first touchdown in a Cardinal uniform in the second quarter. Lined up in the left slot, he cut across the middle and caught a short pass from quarterback Kevin Hogan, then raced 52 yards untouched into the end zone.
In the third quarter, he eluded several tacklers with a nifty 15-yard punt return, and also ran 10 yards for a first down on an end-around. In the fourth quarter, he fumbled a punt, calmly picked up the ball and darted 41 yards up the middle to the UC Davis 14, nearly scoring again.
"It was awesome," he said in the noisy locker room afterward, getting pats on the back from many teammates. "I definitely had some jitters running through my system. I was just ready to get out there and kind of show what I can do and give my 100 percent effort for the guys behind me and for the guys next to me."
McCaffrey got a lot of reps on the kickoff coverage team during the week and replaced Zach Hoffpauir to free him up for extensive playing time on defense.
"He's playing a lot of defense, so they wanted to give him a rest and see if I could get the job done," said McCaffrey. "He taught me a lot this week, so I felt Iike I was prepared."
No doubt his father, Ed, a former star wide receiver at Stanford and in the NFL, couldn't have been prouder. He attended the game with his youngest son, Luke, cheering on Christian, a 6-foot, 197-pounder from Castle Rock, Colo. Another son, Max, plays wide receiver at Duke, where his wife Lisa and son Dylan were rooting him on.
Christian McCaffrey has a nose for the end zone. At Valor Christian High School, he scored a state-record 848 points and produced 141 career touchdowns. He is the Colorado record holder for career all-purpose yards with 8,845.
What happened on the touchdown?
"The linebacker blitzed, so it kind of gave me an open hole," said McCaffrey. "Kevin gave me a good throw and it was off to the races from there."
What did his first collegiate touchdown feel like?
"That was one of the best feelings I've ever had in my life," he said. "Just turning around and seeing all my guys and rest of the team coming down to celebrate with me. It was definitely a great feeling, but we know we've got a lot more to go. We're not satisfied."
His father played at Stanford in 1986, '87, '89 and '90, and was an All-American. An acrobatic leaper, the slender 6-foot-5, 215-pound McCaffrey led the Cardinal with 53 catches for 871 yards and four touchdowns in '89, and paced the offense in receiving yards for three years. In a 1990 game against Washington State, he caught seven passes for 176 yards -- tied for 14th all-time. In 1989, he hauled in 10 passes for 165 yards against San Jose State, tied for 32nd all-time.
McCaffrey spent 13 seasons in the NFL playing for the New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers and the last nine with the Denver Broncos. He played in 185 games and caught 565 passes for 7,422 yards and 55 touchdowns.
Not to be out-done, Lisa played on the Stanford women's soccer team for four years.
How did Christian McCaffrey think his father would review his first college game?
"I don't know," he said. "Hopefully, he's got some good things to say. I'd say there's definitely some things I have to work on."
* * *
With four new starters on the offensive line, it seemed likely the unit would need time to gel. That was evident against UC Davis. Last year, the offensive line was called for only two holding penalties all season. Saturday, the group was called for two in the first half.
"I think we did some good things, but there's definitely a lot of things we have to clean up as unit," said left tackle Andrus Peat, a preseason All-American. "It wasn't prefect by any stretch of the imagination."
Peat said the unit had no problems adjusting to a stable of Stanford running backs.
"It felt good," he said. "All the running backs did good things out there. We're glad to have them."
* * *
Senior strong safety Jordan Richards was pleased with the performance of the defense.
"We've been prepared all camp by our coaches," said Richards. "Defense is real simple: It's hunt and go play football with your best friends. We've got really good communication, good leadership -- that was not a problem with the loss of Shayne (Skov) and Murph (Trent Murphy) and Benny G (Ben Gardner) and those guys. It was just about doing what we were coached to do and playing fast."
Richards was most pleased about creating three turnovers on a pair of interceptions and a fumble recovery.
"Turnovers," he said. "Guys finding the football. Start that lawn mower and get that ball out."
Richards insisted nobody dwelled on the Aggies last visit to Stanford Stadium in 2005, when they pulled off a stunning 20-17 upset.
"We're gonna take USC as seriously as we took UC Davis," said Richards. "It's back to the film room, make corrections and get ready for USC."
* * *
Extra Points: True freshmen FB Daniel Marx, CB Terrence Alexander and OT Casey Tucker also made their collegiate debuts for Stanford . . . The Cardinal defense, which led the nation in sacks last year with 44, collected four Saturday and added eight tackles for loss.