Stanford had Christian McCaffrey and Iowa didn't. There's more to why Iowa lost this game than just that factor, but when a guy sets the all-time Rose Bowl total yardage record (368), that's certainly the first place to look. McCaffrey set an NCAA record for all-purpose yardage during the regular season (and Pac-12 Championship Game) and he picked up right where left off in the Rose Bowl. Literally -- his first touch from scrimmage was on a pass play that went for 75 yards and a touchdown. All those nightmares you had during the run-up to the Rose Bowl about Iowa defending McCaffrey? THEY WERE REAL. OH GOD THEY WERE REAL.
McCaffrey ran for 172 yards on 18 carries, a video game-worthy 9.6 yards per carry. That 10 yards a pop average doesn't feel exaggerated by 1-2 big runs (although he did bust some big gains on the Iowa defense, too) -- it really did feel like every time he got the ball, he simply teleported at least 10 yards down the field, leaving a trail of Iowa defenders juked out of their socks in his wake. He became the first player in Rose Bowl history to get over 100 yards rushing and receiving and probably would have had over 100 yards in punt returns if Iowa had punted to him more than once or over 100 yards in kick returns if, you know, Iowa could have scored the ball. McCaffrey's 63-yard punt return for a touchdown put the Cardinal up 28-0 in the second quarter and effectively ended the game as a competitive contest.
The Iowa offense posted an ugly goose egg in the first half and went into the break down 35-0. They looked better after that -- Iowa outscored Stanford 16-10 after the break, so wooooo second half champions -- but their inability to provide a counterpunch to McCaffrey and the Stanford offense in the first half killed Iowa's ability to stay in the game. The defense and special teams will take a battering for this game, which is completely understandable -- you could make a Godfather-length supercut of all the missed tackles and bad angles Iowa defenders took in this game. But the offense didn't cover itself with glory, either.
Iowa's offense went three and out on three of their first four drives of the game; the lone drive that didn't end with a punt in that sequence ended with a pick-six on a horribly thrown pass on third down. There's plenty of blame to go around for the offense's failures. The receivers dropped multiple passes. The rejiggered offensive line picked a very inopportune time to flash back to their horribawful performances in pass protection from Iowa's open practices before the seas-- OH GOD CJ JUST GOT SACKED AGAIN. They also struggled in run blocking; Iowa's running backs picked up 81 yards on 25 carries, a sluggish 3.2 yards per carry, and even that probably overstates their production since it includes several garbage time runs. The coaches certainly deserve blame as well for a gameplan that seemed doomed from the get-go. Iowa again failed to stretch the field until it was far too late, struggled to make adjustments to Stanford's defense, and failed to string plays together in any sort of effective manner.
And so we end up feeling after this Rose Bowl like Iowa fans have after the last three Rose Bowls.
2016: Stanford 45, Iowa 16
1991: Washington 46, Iowa 34
1986: UCLA 45, Iowa 28
1982: Washington 28, Iowa 0
For a place that Iowa fans cherish so much, it certainly hasn't treated us very well for a long time. Friday's game was just another chapter in Iowa's book of Rose Bowl heartache. Maybe someday we'll write a happier chapter in that book. (The game was also another example of Iowa's continuing struggles in bowl games, but that's a topic worthy of further breakdown in another post.) Honestly, I don't know how this loss impacts the rest of Iowa's season -- that might be something that requires a little more time to sink in. But this was definitely a really miserable way to end the season. The surroundings are better when you get blown out in the Rose Bowl than when you get blown out in the Gator Bowl, but watching it is still a shitty way to spend four hours.