Stanford bolted out of the gate with three first-quarter touchdowns and never looked back in a 52-27 rout of Oregon in a Pac-12 North matchup between football rivals at Autzen Stadium on Saturday.
Quarterback Keller Chryst, in his third start, came out of his shell to pass for 258 yards and three touchdowns and Stanford welcomed back its passing game to punish the Ducks with 535 yards of offense.
Christian McCaffrey scored three touchdowns and rushed for 135 yards – 131 in the first half-- on 17 carries and sat for the final 19 minutes. And linebacker and Oregon native Joey Alfieri intercepted two passes in the end zone as the Cardinal took advantage of four Oregon turnovers for 21 points.
Stanford (7-3 overall, 5-3 Pac-12) won its third straight while exceeding its season-high in points in the first half. Despite its troubles this season, the Cardinal has beaten USC, Notre Dame, and Oregon, an impressive feat in any season.
David Shaw, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, sought improvements from Chryst, who had struggled, and got it. Chryst hadn't passed for more than 102 yards in a game before and there were times when the rhythm was missing, but Chryst persevered and came through with some of his biggest plays this season while improving to 3-0 as a starter.
"It was about coming into a hostile environment and playing our best football," Shaw said. "We challenged our team offensively to throw the ball better, protect better. We challenged Keller to play the way he is capable of playing and he had a really good game for us."
Chryst's 15-yard pass to Michael Rector in the third quarter probably was the best throw of his collegiate career. Rolling right after a play-action fake, Chryst threw on the run, with touch, and over a defender while getting hit low (a flag was thrown). The pass hit Rector coming across the back of the end zone. The defense never saw the receiver coming.
Another impressive throw resulted in a 61-yard touchdown pass to JJ Arcega-Whiteside in the first quarter. There never was any doubt about Chryst's arm strength, but his touch hadn't been evident until this game. The pass hit his receiver in stride down the right sideline with good coverage 35 yards downfield. Arcega-Whiteside shook off the defensive back to get a step of separation.
"The biggest thing is it's not the talent, it's getting comfortable," Shaw said. "This is Game Three as a full-time starter and I feel he's made progress every week."
McCaffrey surpassed 1,000 yards rushing for the second consecutive season and increased his rushing total over the past three games to 523. He had 218 all-purpose yards, including 52 on five catches.
Late in the third quarter, Bryce Love (82 yards on five carries) limped off the field with McCaffrey already on the sideline and Stanford gave Portland native Cameron Scarlett extended action for the first time and he responded with a 13-yard touchdown run to give Stanford a 52-13 third-quarter lead.
Though the teams both were unranked at the time of their matchup for the first time since 2008, coaches and players professed the importance of winning in a rivalry that has been intense over the past decade, with conference and even national-championship implications.
However, this year there will be no postseason for Oregon (3-7, 1-6), which already has more losses than in any season since going 3-8 in 1991.
Stanford grabbed momentum early. After going backward on its first possession, Stanford scored on its next six drives, with five resulting in touchdowns on the way to grabbing a 38-13 halftime lead.
McCaffrey got it going by breaking a 61-yard touchdown run on Stanford's second series. With Daniel Marx returning to the lineup after injury, the fullback got a lead block of the outside defender and pulling guard Nate Herbig sealed off another defender to allow McCaffrey to burst through the right side untouched.
"We knew if we were going to beat this team, we were going to need some explosive plays, do a good job up front and play our game, and make them play our game," McCaffrey said.
McCaffrey also scored on runs of 5 and 14 yards and has 11 touchdowns this season, one away from his 2015 total when he was the A.P. national Player of the Year.
"He's one of the best players in the nation," Shaw said. "And now that he's healthy and feeling great and we're playing well up front. He's dangerous every time he touches the ball. And you combine that with Bryce Love, Michael Rector, JJ Arcega-Whiteside and our tight ends, and it's a fun group to coach."
Oregon gained 500 of offense, but hurt themselves with turnovers, including a botched handoff that was recovered by Stanford's star defensive tackle Solomon Thomas and a Stanford punt that bounced off the back of an Oregon blocker and was recovered by Shawn Barton.
Thomas, however, left the game early in the second quarter with an ankle injury and did not return.
Stanford has the Big Game next, in Berkeley, and it seems to be coming at a good time. The Cardinal is rolling.