Iowa's plan to slow Stanford's McCaffrey is simple

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Stanford’s impressive Pacific-12 Conference championship game win over Southern California was playing on HDTVs on Tuesday at the Iowa Football Performance Center.

Not that Hawkeye players needed any additional reminders about the potent Cardinal offense, led by freshly-crowned Associated Press player of the year Christian McCaffrey.

Consider this humbling scouting report from Hawkeye free safety Jordan Lomax:

“They’re a very powerful running team (that averages 225.1 rushing yards a game).

“They have a great offensive line (led by 321-pound Outland Trophy winner Joshua Garnett).

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Running back Christian McCaffrey, making a catch vs. Washington State on Oct. 31, leads Stanford in receptions with 41 this season for 540 yards and four touchdowns.

“They’re very big up front (301.4 pounds per offensive lineman).

“And they also have a great running back (McCaffrey).

“And they also have a great quarterback (Kevin Hogan, with 35 wins as a starter) who knows how to manage the game.”

No wonder the Cardinal average 37.2 points a contest. But stopping Stanford starts with stopping McCaffrey, the 6-foot, 201-pound sophomore who reminds Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz of Barry Sanders.

“He's a tremendous football player, seems like a tremendous young man on top of that,” Ferentz said. “So our preparation starts right there. You better find a way to contain him a little bit. And that's going to take a really great team effort. Not only defensively, but on special teams, as well, punting and kickoff.”

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McCaffrey gained 1,847 yards rushing, 540 receiving and 1,109 on returns for the Cardinal. But Iowa presents the most stingy rush defense McCaffrey has faced all year, at No. 10 nationally. The second-best? No. 13 Northwestern, which beat the Cardinal 16-6 in the season opener.

With 174 yards on Nov. 7, Indiana's Jordan Howard is the only running back to top 100 against the 12-1 Hawkeyes. McCaffrey has 10 100-yard rushing outputs in the past 11 games.

“He wasn’t runner-up for the Heisman for no reason,” Lomax said. “He has the ability to make you miss in space. He’s just a downhill runner, and guys tend to bounce off of him. It’s important that we wrap up and make sure we get him to the ground.”

The Hawkeyes use an assignment- and fundamentals-based defense, so there’s no particular gimmick they’ll use to try to stop McCaffrey.

But the three key guys in containing him out of the backfield are linebackers Cole Fisher, Josey Jewell and Ben Niemann.

“Especially in pass coverage,” Fisher stressed. “It’ll be a lot of one-on-ones with him. He’s made a lot of linebackers miss and look stupid in the open field.”