PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — Iowa waited 25 years to make a return trip to the Rose Bowl. The excitement wore off in a hurry.
Christian McCaffrey raced 75 yards into the end zone 11 seconds into the game, not long after Iowa’s players charged onto the field and revved up the black and gold-clad fans in the north end zone. The Hawkeyes’ cheering section quickly went silent.
“It was a big play certainly,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “One play doesn’t define a game. We had ample opportunity after that to play.”
The sixth-ranked Hawkeyes had no answer for McCaffrey and struggled in the air and on the ground in a 45-16 loss to No. 5 Stanford on Friday, ending a season in which they opened 12-0 for the first time in school history.
“Stanford just outplayed us every turn,” Ferentz said. “They did a great job. They’re a veteran football team. You can find less than a handful of guys that aren’t seniors or juniors on that team, and I think that was a big part of it.”
Comedian and Iowa native Tom Arnold, croaking hoarsely during an in-game interview, vowed the Hawkeyes would rally in the second half.
And they did, outscoring Stanford 16-10, but it was too little, too late after giving up a game-record 35 points in the first half.
“We just didn’t get it going offensively,” center Austin Blythe said.
The Hawkeyes (12-2) got a 39-yard field goal by Marshall Koehn late in the third quarter after C.J. Beathard was sacked twice. Beathard threw his only two TD passes in the fourth quarter, when the Hawkeyes trailed by 29 points. Matt VandeBerg caught a 36-yarder, and Akrum Wadley scored on a 31-yarder with 2:46 remaining.
Iowa was the last team to be blanked in the Rose Bowl, losing 28-0 to Washington in 1982. The Hawkeyes were beaten 46-34 by Washington in the school’s last appearance in 1991.
This one was much worse.
One night after Michigan State lost 38-0 to No. 2 Alabama in the Cotton Bowl, the Big Ten stumbled badly again.
This blowout was well under way in the first half, when Iowa trailed 35-0. As if Hawkeyes fans weren’t already bummed, they booed heartily when Stanford’s band offended their Midwestern sensibilities with a galloping costumed cow that tipped over at halftime.
Iowa’s second drive of the game ended with Quenton Meeks’ 66-yard interception return, giving Stanford a 21-0 lead.
Beathard fell to 13-2 in his career as Iowa’s starting quarterback. The junior was 21 of 33 for 239 yards, with one interception and seven sacks.
“They scored on the first play of the game, a play that our defense has seen on film multiple times, same play,” Beathard said. “I threw the ball right into the flat and you can’t do that.”
The Hawkeyes’ running corps was held to a combined 78 yards. LeShun Daniels (37), Wadley (33) and Jordan Canzeri (8) had each run for at least 195 yards in a game this season. The team’s leading receiver was VandeBerg with four catches for 64 yards, while Wadley had three catches for 60 yards.
“We had a lot of mistakes and that’s something you can’t have against a great team like Stanford,” Canzeri said. “We understand that we didn’t play at all the way we’re capable of this game so it’s tough to beat a team like that.”
McCaffrey struck again in the second quarter, scoring in front of Iowa’s silent band on a 63-yard punt return for a 28-0 lead. The Cardinal (12-2) extended the lead to 35-0 when Michael Rector caught a 31-yard pass from Kevin Hogan and cruised into the end zone without a defender covering him.
“We know that McCaffrey is the best in the country and we have to cover him,” Beathard said. “We didn’t cover well and he got up really quick and it’s tough to come back from that.”
McCaffrey, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, dominated the Hawkeyes’ defense, becoming the first player to top 100 yards rushing and receiving in the 102-year history of the Rose Bowl.
“McCaffrey, he’s a great running back,” free safety Jordan Lomax said. “His ability to elude tackles and stay on his feet, he’s just a great player.”
The Hawkeyes ended the season with consecutive losses, having been beaten 16-13 by Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game. That cost Iowa a berth in the College Football Playoff semifinals.
“It will give us some fuel going into the offseason and next season,” Beathard said. “We want to do this again. We want to come back here and win.”