Good things happen when Christian McCaffrey has the ball. Stanford gave it to him when it could, though time of possession was not the Cardinal's friend in Saturday's 118th Big Game in Stanford Stadium.
McCaffrey scored on a 49-yard pass play from Kevin Hogan and again on a 98-yard kickoff return. It was all part of another outstanding performance from the sophomore running back, the national leader who set a school record for all-purpose yards with 389.
The Cardinal clinched a spot in the Pac-12 Championship game on Dec. 5 at Levi's Stadium with its 35-22 victory over visiting California and will meet the winner of next week's game between UCLA and USC.
"We don't have a guy in the program that's lost the Axe," said Stanford coach David Shaw, whose team beat Cal for a sixth straight year. "That was what we talked about all week. When it's Cal week, we don't worry about anything else."
Stanford (9-2 overall, 8-1 Pac-12) hosts fifth-ranked Notre Dame next Saturday in the regular-season finale.
"We have a huge game this week," McCaffrey said. "We're focused on Notre Dame."
McCaffrey broke Glyn Milburn's single-game all-purpose record of 379 set in the 1990 Big Game.
Bryce Love added a 48-yard touchdown run and Remound Wright scored a pair of touchdowns as Stanford beat the Bears for the sixth straight season.
California took a page out of Stanford's playbook, controlling time of possession, kicking a bunch of field goals and then striking against the inexperienced Cardinal secondary.
"We're not used to losing the time of possession," Shaw said. "They kept the ball a long time. They were efficient."
Jared Goff picked apart Stanford's defense with a variety of short and medium length passes, and converted on several long third-down plays as the Golden Bears pulled to within 21-16 midway through the third quarter.
Stanford was limited to 13 plays and 57 yards in the third quarter, though Hogan got the Cardinal going again with a 12-play, 61-yard drive that spilled over into the fourth quarter. Wright delivered yet another touchdown to put Stanford ahead, 28-16.
McCaffrey's exploits just before halftime broke open a 7-3 game and put the Cardinal up, 21-6.
With the Cardinal offense needing to make a big play to hold off Cal, McCaffrey made it, in perhaps his most spectacular touchdown this season.
"Has anybody seen a running back . . . I'll say this ... a football player better than Christian McCaffrey this year?" asked Shaw. "Tell me. Show him to me. I haven't seen anybody."
At the Cal 49-yard line, quarterback Kevin Hogan took a short drop, with McCaffrey apparently staying to block. The halfback then turned around, took a short toss and made magic.
Offensive guard Joshua Garnett shielded one defender while McCaffrey broke a tackle. He found running room, evaded another, and another and another.
"Our guard stayed on his block and did an incredible job," McCaffrey said. "Allowed me to get some low pad leverage and see open field from there."
Francis Owusu made a final block downfield as McCaffrey cut right and found open field to the end zone.
Following a Cal field goal with 51 seconds left in half, McCaffrey took the kickoff and burst up a well-protected alley.
A Cal player got a hand on him at the Stanford 25, but that was it. McCaffrey settled up the right sideline and outran the Bears the rest of the way. It was his first collegiate kickoff return for a score.
Stanford's clinching score came when McCaffrey was the object of a play-action fake up the middle, splintering the Golden Bears' defense that did not pay enough attention to Bryce Love on an end around for a 48-yard touchdown run with 6:13 left for a 35-16 lead.
Goff was Cal's most dangerous weapon and for much of the game he picked apart the Stanford defense, completing 37 of 54 passes for 386 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
"This is a tough road we have traveled in our conference," Shaw said. "The toughest nine-game schedule in America."