Sports

Heisman hype for McCaffrey surfaces with Stanford at 5-1

 

Christian McCaffrey for the Heisman Trophy? He's one of the nine candidates currently listed on the Heisman's official (Heisman.com) site.

Stanford senior cornerback Ronnie Harris is all for it.

"The Heisman comes with wins, give him the Heisman," Harris said. "If you ask Christian, he wants to help the team. He's all about working hard. He's not doing any talking."

Jim Plunkett is Stanford's one and only Heisman Trophy winner, though both Toby Gerhart and Andrew Luck (2010, 2011) each finished second in the voting. Gerhart lost on the slimmest margin (1,304 points to 1,276) in Heisman history in 2009.

McCaffrey, named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week after setting a school record with 243 rushing yards in Stanford's 56-35 victory over UCLA last week, leads the nation in all-purpose yards with a 253.0 average per game.

The Cardinal (5-1, 4-0 Pac-12) hopes he can continue that success this week when Washington visits for a conference game on Saturday at 7:30 p.m., to be aired on ESPN.

McCaffrey helped Stanford compile rushing games of more than 300 yards in three straight contests for the first time in program history. The Huskies will provide the stiffest test yet. They lead the Pac-12 in several defensive categories, including total defense (345.3) and scoring defense (16.8).

"They have a great structure and great discipline," Cardinal coach David Shaw said. "That's not surprising. Chris Petersen is a systematic person."

Washington (3-3, 1-2) gave up 30 points to California and 26 points to Oregon, both losses, though both were well below average for the Bears (40.2) and Ducks (39.3). The Cardinal is fourth in the conference at 38.5.

The Huskies, whose three losses were all by less than a touchdown, have grudgingly given up 11 touchdowns all season. Stanford scored eight against the Bruins and 15 in its last two games combined.

Washington relies on its defense, including a conference-leading (with USC) red zone defense, to the degree that any malfunction will work against them. The Huskies can't afford to fall behind. They don't quite have quick-strike capabilities, though freshman quarterback Jake Browning is another of the good, young signal-callers in the conference.

"In high school he put it all out there for everybody to see on film," Shaw said of Browning. "He made plays, he made great throws and played well for a young player."

Washington freshman linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven, who helped Sacred Heart Prep win the Central Coast Section Open Division title a year ago, also had Stanford on his short list of potential schools and Shaw liked what he saw on film.

"I loved watching him play," Shaw said. "He went sideline to sideline and found a way to get to the ball carrier. He's a very good football player who plays hard on every single play. He reminds me of (Palo Alto grad) Kevin Anderson. I saw Kevin line up on one side of the field and make a play on the other side."

Unfortunately, Stanford could not offer Burr-Kirven, who has appeared in all six of the Huskies games thus far and has 11 tackles, including a sack. Former Gator Derek Hunter, who transferred to Washington from Georgetown, is also on the roster . He's listed as a redshirt sophomore tight end.

"It's always a numbers crunch," Shaw said. "T.J. Tarpley was the only inside linebacker we lost last year and we had four safeties."

In the discussion of who Stanford will face at quarterback -- Browning, who injured a shoulder last week, or redshirt freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels, a Bellarmine Prep product -- Shaw cautioned that the Cardinal doesn't worry about stopping certain individuals.

"We try really hard not to prepare for individual people because that gets our players' eyes in the wrong spot," Shaw said. "That leaves them concentrating on the wrong things, as opposed to which gap am I hitting, what am I responsible for, what angles do I need to take at the quarterback. More than anything, it's about us preparing for them schematically."

The Huskies don't quite measure up on offense and the Cardinal defense is nearly as good, statistically, as Washington. Blake Martinez, who averages 11.7 tackles a game, may be the best linebacker in the conference.

While the Huskies are first in total defense, Stanford ranks second (357.3) and the Cardinal allows 21.7 points while Washington averages 25.7.

Washington ranks 11th in both total offense (351.3) and rushing (123.8), while Stanford is fourth in rushing defense, and allows the fewest first downs. One guess to which team makes the fewest first downs.

McCaffrey moved into second place among Pac-12 rushers, averaging 140.7 yards per game, just behind Oregon's Royce Freeman, with 142.4. A direct correlation is that Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan has moved into the conference lead in passing efficiency.

When you can run the ball effectively, you can also utilize the passing attack. He throws four touchdowns to every interception. Only Arizona's Anu Solomon, who has yet to throw an interception, has a better ratio.

Hogan continues to recover from an ankle injury, though he has remained in action in three full games since suffering the injury against USC on Sept. 19.

Shaw said Hogan was at about 85 percent last weekend. He's mobile and makes good decision, but Hogan still needs to develop the "burst or explosion" that could make the difference between being fully healthy.

As for any talk of the Heisman, Shaw remains reluctant to talk about a campaign for McCaffrey.

"It's six games in," he said. "It's fluid. I've been through it and I've studied it. The only thing that works is playing great late in the year and winning games late in the year."

Plunkett won the award in 1970, after leading Stanford to an 8-3 overall mark and a Rose Bowl victory. Quarterbacks Joe Theismann and Archie Manning finished second and third in the voting.

Mark Ingram was a sophomore when he edged Gerhart. Johnny Manziel (2012) and James Winston (2013) were freshmen. In fact, the last senior to win it was Ohio State's Troy Smith in 2006.

McCaffrey's academic status will not count against him. What will work against him is constantly playing late games on the west coast. If he continues to produce, however, than nothing will stop him. Like Ingram, McCaffrey is the son of a former NFL star and that's name recognition you can't promote.

David Kiefer and Stanford Athletics contributed to this report

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