Cardinal Numbers: "Good to
We are pleased to bring you our annual statistical breakdown of Stanford's remarkable 2011 season. As we already know, Stanford's statistical performance this past season was stellar, virtually across the board. This was an outstanding season in so many ways that there is good news in just about every statistic we might analyze. The short summary is that Stanford's offense improved from "very good" to "great", the Vic fangio-led defense improved dramatically, and the special teams generally performed well.
Stanford's offensive performance this season was superb by any measure. We start by comparing this year's offensive statistics to last year's. Last year's offense was itself quite good, one of the top offenses in Stanford history by most measures. Nevertheless, the Cardinal managed to improve on it:
|Offense: 2009 vs. 2010|
|Rushing yards/game (excluding sacks)||221||218|
|Rushing yards/attempt (excluding sacks)||5.4||5.3|
|Pass efficiency rating||139.6||168.4|
|Pass attempts per sack allowed||44.7||63.2|
|Third down conversion rate||45%||58%|
Stanford's offense was among the top 10 in the NCAA in a number of categories:
|Red Zone Efficiency||89%||9th|
|Pass Efficiency Rating||168.3||3rd|
|Sacks Allowed per Game||0.46||2nd|
|Time of Possession per Game||34:34||1st|
The improvement in the offense this year was the culmination of a four-year upward trend. Stanford's offense in 2006 under Walt Harris was a disaster, one of the worst offenses in school history. The offense has improved steadily over the last four years, with this year's offense being perhaps the best in school history. The improvement has been nothing short of stunning:
This year's Stanford offense is the highest scoring offense in Stanford history:
[Note: In accordance with NCAA policy, bowl games were not counted in the statistics until 2002.]
This year's offense ranks second in Stanford history in yards per game, trailing only the 1969 team led by Jim Plunkett:
The 1969 Stanford team gained more yards per game than this year's team because it ran more plays - 84 plays per game in 1969, compared to 70 plays per game this year. Based on yards per play, this year's offense was the most productive offense in Stanford history:
|Yards per Offensive Play|
Stanford's offense was consistently strong throughout the season, with roughly similar results in the first half and the second half of the season:
First Half vs. Second Half
Coming into the season, the Stanford rushing game was surrounded by questions. There was much discussion about how Stanford would try to replace Toby Gerhart. The consensus was that Stanford's rushing game was headed for a steep decline. As it turned out, however, Stanford was able to gain almost as many rushing yards this year as last year - the difference in total rushing yards was just 58 yards. The expected "post-Gerhart decline" turned out to be negligible:
2009 vs. 2010
By any standard, Stanford's running game continued to be very strong even in Gerhart's absence. Stanford's rushing attack ranked 2nd in the Pac 10 in rushing yards per game, 2nd in rushing yards per attempt, and 2nd in rushing TDs. Among the 66 BCS teams, Stanford ranked in the top 10 in all three of those categories. This year's team ranks among the top rushing teams in Stanford history:
|Rushing Yards Per Game|
It took the combined efforts of several players to compensate for Gerhart's departure. Sophomore Stepfan Taylor carried the bulk of the load, but several others stepped up as well. Together, they filled most of the considerable gap left by Gerhart:
2009 vs. 2010
In 2009, the Cardinal set a school record with an average of 5.3 yards per carry. This year's team almost equaled that mark, with an average of 5.2. The top three averages in school history all have come in the last three seasons:
|Rushing Yards Per Attempt|
Stanford had its lowest yards-per-carry average ever in 2006, with 2.1 yards per carry. To go from that low point to the sustained excellence of the last three seasons in such a short time is remarkable.
Stanford's strong performance in average yards per carry is due in part to a sharp reduction in the number of sacks allowed. Sacks have a doubly negative effect on the average yards per carry because they decrease the number of rushing yards while increasing the number of carries. A team that gives up a lot of sacks can see its average yards per carry go down by as much as 1.0 to 1.5 yards per carry. Over the last few years, Stanford has sharply reduced the number of sacks allowed, which has helped maintain its yards per carry at a high level.
In 2008 and 2009, Stanford's offense heavily emphasized the power running game, with 2009 Doak Walker Award-winner Toby Gerhart setting school records in rushing. In those two seasons, Stanford's offense had fewer pass attempts and fewer pass completions than any Stanford team since 1967. Those two teams also had more rushing yards than passing yards, the only Stanford teams to do so since 1967.
This year, the offensive approach changed somewhat. Stanford still is a power running team, and Stanford still runs the ball a lot. But this year, the Cardinal threw the ball more, as one would expect with a Heisman-caliber quarterback under center. Stanford returned to the more usual model of having more passing yards than rushing yards, as the play selection mix shifted somewhat toward the pass:
|Play Selection 2008 - 2010|
|Rushing Attempts per Game||40.8||41.2||41.2|
|Passing Attempts per Game||23.9||24.1||29.2|
|Run/Pass Mix||63% - 37%||63% - 37%||59% - 41%|
The effectiveness of the passing game improved across the board:
|Attempts per Game||24.1||29.2|
|Completions per Game||13.4||20.5|
|Pass Efficiency Rating||139.6||168.4|
Those passing numbers are simply outstanding. Stanford finished third in the nation in pass efficiency rating with a rating of 168.4, shattering the school record (147.8 in 1979 with Schonert & Elway). In previous editions of this column, we have focused on yards per attempt at a key indicator of the effectiveness of the passing game. For the second straight year Stanford approached 9 yards per pass attempt, which is terrific. Just two years ago, Stanford averaged a sub-par 6.4 yards per pass attempt. The improvement has been sensational. It sure makes a difference to have Luck on our side.
While this year's average of 8.9 yards per attempt was similar to last year's average of 8.7 yards per attempt, we got there a different way. A year ago, Stanford had more of a downfield passing game. The team's completion percentage of 55.6% was not very high, but the average completion of 15.6 yards was outstanding. This reflected a relative emphasis on longer passes to wide receivers. Because the average yards per completion were so high last season, Stanford was able to average a very strong 8.7 yards per attempt, despite a rather unimpressive completion percentage. This year, the emphasis shifted somewhat toward a higher-percentage mid-range passing game. There were more completions to the tight ends and running backs, rather than the wide receivers. The average completion didn't cover as much yardage. But the completion percentage was higher:
|Pass Receptions, 2009 vs. 2010|
|Wide Receivers||61%||16.3 yds||56%||13.6 yds|
|Tight Ends||22%||14.7 yds||25%||13.0 yds|
|RBs and FBs||16%||14.5 yds||19%||9.6 yds|
|Note: These figures do not include one reception by a QB in 2009|
and one reception by an OL in 2010
With this shift in the emphasis of the passing attack, the team's overall average reception went down from 15.6 yards per catch last year to 12.6 yards per catch this year - but the completion percentage shot up to 70.2%, the third highest in the nation and a school record. The increase in completion percentage more than compensated for the decline in yards per completion, producing an exceptionally high average of 8.9 yards per attempt.
Individually, Andrew Luck was outstanding. He ranked third in the NCAA in pass efficiency rating (170.2), behind Kellen Moore and Cam Newton. He led the Pac 10 in pass efficiency rating for the second straight year. He broke several Stanford passing records (see the "Random Numbers" section at the end of this column for details). In the key category of yards per pass attempt, Luck averaged an excellent 9.0 yards per attempt, breaking his own school record:
|Yards Per Pass Attempt|
Stanford continues to give up an exceptionally small number of sacks. Two years ago, Stanford gave up one sack for every 13.7 pass attempts. This year, Stanford allowed only one sack for every 63.2 pass attempts. Andrew Luck is one of the best quarterbacks I've ever seen at avoiding sacks. He has a tremendous ability to get the ball out of his hands at the right time, and he knows exactly when to start scrambling. He is gifted in his vision and his pocket awareness.
Overall, I think an excellent case can be made that the 2011 offense was the best offense in Stanford history.
Over the last few years, while Stanford's offense was improving steadily, the defense was lagging behind. In the off-season last year, Stanford revamped its defensive coaching staff and switched to a base 3-4 defense. This season, the defense took a huge leap forward.
Stanford ranked 1st in the Pac 10 in scoring defense. This was the first Stanford team to lead the conference in scoring defense since 1971. Stanford ranked 2nd in the conference in total defense, 2nd in rushing defense, and 2nd in pass efficiency defense.
Nationally, out of 120 teams, Stanford ranked 10th in scoring defense and 21st in total defense. This was a tremendous improvement over the prior year, when Stanford was 69th in scoring defense and 90th in total defense.
In a line by line comparison to last season, Stanford's defense showed great progress in almost every category:
|Defense: 2009 vs. 2010|
|First downs allowed/game||21.3||18.5|
|Total yards allowed/game||403||323|
|Rushing yards allowed/game||138||121|
|Rushing yards allowed/game (excl. sacks)||151||139|
|Rushing yards allowed/attempt||4.2||3.9|
|Rushing yards allowed/attempt (excl. sacks)||4.9||4.9|
|Passing yards allowed/game||265||202|
|Passing yards allowed/attempt||7.6||6.2|
|Pass efficiency defense||139.6||112.8|
|Opponent pass attempts per sack||21.7||11.8|
|Tackles for loss/game||4.5||5.5|
|Third down conversion rate allowed||43%||37%|
Stanford's defensive performance this season was highlighted by three shut-outs - 35-0 at UCLA, 41-0 at Washington, and 38-0 over Oregon State. Stanford had not posted three shut-outs in a season since 1969. In fact, shut-outs have been a rarity on the Farm for a long time. Stanford defenses went 33 years, from 1974 to 2007, without a single shut-out in a regular season game. (The Cardinal did have a post-season shut-out in the 1996 Sun Bowl, 38-0 over Michigan State.) To pitch three shut-outs against conference opponents in one season is remarkable.
The Cardinal's defensive statistics improved dramatically in the second half of the season:
|2010 Defense: First Half vs. Second Half|
|First 7 Games||Last 6 Games|
|First downs allowed/game||20.1||16.7|
|Total yards allowed/game||362||277|
|Rushing yards allowed/game||148||90|
|Rushing yards allowed/attempt||4.3||3.3|
|Passing yards allowed/game||215||187|
|Passing yards allowed/attempt||7.0||5.4|
The defensive statistics for the second half of the season are extraordinary. Stanford did not give up more than 17 points in any of its last six games, allowing an average of just 9.3 points in those six games. The last Stanford defense to allow fewer points over a six game stretch was the 1971 Thunderchicken defense (8.8 points per game over the first six games of the season). Likewise, holding opponents to just 277 yards per game in the second half of the season was a tremendous achievement.
One of the keys to Stanford's defensive improvement was the reduction in the number of big plays allowed. The Cardinal cut in half the number of 30+ yard gains allowed this season:
|30+ Yard Gains Allowed|
|Total 30+ Yard Gains Allowed||25||13|
|30+ Yard Runs Allowed||6||2|
|30+ Yard Passes Allowed||19||11|
Stanford allowed fewer 30+ yard gains than any Pac 10 team, and ranked 8th nationally in that category. Of the 13 gains of 30+ yards allowed, 4 came in garbage time with Stanford safely ahead. Robert Woods of USC had 3 of the other 9 gains of 30+ yards.
Stanford's rushing defense improved from a middling 55th in the nation last year (138 yards/game allowed) to a strong 19th in the nation this year (121 yards/game allowed). The Stanford rushing defense improved from 7th in the Pac 10 to 2nd, just one yard per game behind the leader, Arizona State. Only two Stanford teams since 1971 have allowed fewer rushing yards per game -- the 1986 Gator Bowl team allowed 101.1 yards/game, and the 2001 Seattle Bowl team allowed 109.6 yards/game.
One reason for the low number of opponent rushing yards was the fact that Stanford was ahead of its opponents the great majority of the time throughout the season. Stanford never trailed at halftime this season, and led by double digits at halftime in 9 of its 13 games. In fact, Stanford trailed for only 53:08 in all 13 games combined (with half of that total in the Oregon game). Opponents were forced to pass the ball in an effort to catch up. As a result, Stanford's opponents averaged only 31.2 rushing attempts per game, which was the 6th fewest in the nation.
Stanford's defense allowed fewer yards per rushing attempt this season - 3.9 yards per attempt this year (43rd in the nation) compared to 4.2 yards per attempt last year (78th). The improvement was entirely due to Stanford's increase in sacks, which are recorded as negative rushing yards for the opponent. When sacks are taken out of the rushing statistics, Stanford allowed the same number of yards per rushing attempt this season as last season - 4.9 yards per attempt.
Stanford's defense did not produce a lot of tackles for loss. With 5.5 tackles for loss per game, Stanford ranked 75th of 120 teams nationally. However, this was an improvement from last year, when Stanford ranked 108th nationally with 4.5 tackles for loss per game.
The Cardinal pass defense took a huge step forward this year:
|Pass Defense, 2009 vs. 2010|
|Pass Efficiency Defense||98th||16th|
|Passing Yards Allowed per Game||110th||35th|
|Yards Allowed per Attempt||86th||19th|
|Interceptions per Game||99th||18th|
The improvement in the pass defense undoubtedly was due in part to a more effective pass rush. Stanford's pass rush improved from 1.6 sacks per game last year (85th in the nation and 8th in the conference) to 2.8 sacks per game this year (14th nationally and 2nd in the conference).
The increase in sacks was a team effort. In 2009, only three players had two or more sacks - Thomas Keiser had 9, Will Powers had 4, and Chase Thomas had 4. Those three accounted for 17 of the team's 21 sacks. This year, the pressure came from more angles and the sacks came from more players, with six players having two or more sacks:
Stanford's turnover margin of +13 was outstanding. The per-game turnover margin of +1.0 per game was tied for 7th in the nation, and was tied with Oregon for 1st in the Pac 10. The +13 margin was the best turnover margin for Stanford in the last 16 seasons, which is as far back as my data go.
Stanford did well both in taking care of the ball and in taking it away from opponents. The Cardinal's total of 17 turnovers lost (8 interceptions, 9 fumbles lost) ranked 16th in the nation. Stanford's 30 takeaways (18 interceptions, 12 fumble recoveries) ranked 12th nationally.
Last year, Stanford was equally good at taking care of the ball, committing just 17 turnovers - the same as this year. But Stanford did a poor job last year of creating takeaways, with only 17 takeaways (99th in the nation). As a result, Stanford's turnover margin last year was 0. The improvement in turnover margin from 0 last year to +13 this year was entirely due to the increase in takeaways from 17 to 30. The increase in takeaways, in turn, was largely due to the increase in interceptions from 8 to 18. Fumble recoveries increased by a smaller amount, from 9 to 12.
Over the years, the turnover margin has been a pretty good indicator of wins and losses. Looking at all of Stanford's games for the last 16 seasons, the team with the advantage in turnovers has won 75% of the time. This season, however, the turnover margin as such wasn't a very meaningful factor in Stanford games. Stanford was so good that it was able to win games even when it lost the turnover battle. Stanford's record this year in games in which it had a negative turnover margin was 4-0, with wins over Sacramento State (-1 margin), Notre Dame (-1), USC (-2), and Virginia Tech (-1). Stanford's only loss came in a game in which turnovers were even (3 turnovers each in the Oregon game). Stanford won its other game in which turnovers were even (against Arizona State) and won all seven games in which it had a turnover advantage.
Stanford's special teams ranged from solid to outstanding this year.
The punting team didn't get many opportunities. Stanford's 32 punts were tied with Boise State for the fewest in the nation. Overall, Stanford's net punting average (net of returns and touchbacks) was 36.8 yards per punt. That was a bit above average, ranking 52nd nationally.
The Cardinal's 36.8 yard net punting average was just slightly below last year's net average of 37.2 yards per punt. Stanford's two punters actually kicked the ball farther this year, with the length of the average punt going up by 1.7 yards, from 40.4 yards last year to 42.1 yards this year (43.0 for Green, 41.8 for Zychlinski). However, Stanford's net punting average went down slightly because Stanford allowed more punt return yards this year. Of Stanford's 32 punts this year, 10 were returned for a total of 130 yards (13.0 average), compared to 12 returns for 82 yards (6.8 average) last year. The difference is entirely attributable to one return, the 70 yard return by Sacramento State in the first game of the season. In its last 12 games, Stanford allowed 9 punt returns for 60 yards (6.7 average) - an average of 5 punt return yards per game. If we were to exclude the one punt with the 70 yard return, Stanford's net punting average would have been 38.7 yards per punt, instead of 36.8 yards per punt. So that one return made a difference of almost 2 yards in the net punting average for the season.
Stanford's punt return team was pretty good this year, with an average of 10.0 yards per return (33rd in the nation). This was an improvement from last year's average of 7.6 yards per return (77th). Stanford's punt returns really took off in the latter part of the season, as Drew Terrell averaged 15.2 yards per return over the last 5 games. For the season, Terrell averaged 12.2 yards per return (20th in the nation). Stanford blocked one punt this year.
The Cardinal's kickoff team did well this year, providing a consistent field position advantage. Nate Whitaker's kickoffs carried, on average, to between the 2 and 3 yard line. Stanford ranked 4th in the nation in kickoff distance (67.4 yards) and 12th in the nation in touchback percentage (28.9%), leading the conference in both categories. Stanford allowed an average of about 21.9 yards per return. Overall, Stanford averaged a net of 46.3 yards per kickoff, which was the best in the Pac 10. That's very close to last year's figure, when Stanford averaged a net of 46.6 yards per kickoff, also the best in the Pac 10.
Stanford's kickoff return team averaged 21.8 yards per return, which put Stanford just about in the middle of the pack (62nd in the nation). The kickoff return team was hampered by the absence of Chris Owusu for significant parts of the season. A year ago, Stanford averaged 27.5 yards per return, which was good for 3rd in the nation. So, the kickoff return average declined by 5.7 yards.
The Cardinal's field goal kicking was excellent this year. Nate Whitaker made 17 of 19 field goals. Whitaker's field goal percentage of 89.5% ranked 7th in the nation. Whitaker improved on last year's field goal accuracy, when he went 16 of 22 (72.7%). Both years, Whitaker was very accurate inside 40 yards (10-11 last year, 13-14 this year). This year's improvement came in kicks of 40 or more yards. Last year, Whitaker made 6 of 11 from 40+ yards; this year, he made 4 of 5 from 40+ yards. Whitaker made 61 of 66 conversion attempts. His five misses were somewhat surprising given that his field goal accuracy was so good, and given that he didn't miss a single conversion attempt all last season (53 of 53).
In summary, Stanford's special teams improved over last year in punt returns and field goal kicking, were about the same as last year in net punting and net kickoffs, and weren't as good as last year in kickoff returns.
* Stanford's # 4 ranking in the final AP poll was its highest final ranking since 1940, when Clark Shaughnessy's "Wow Boys" team, led by Frankie Albert, finished with the # 2 ranking.
* Andrew Luck broke the Pac 10 record for highest completion percentage in a season with a completion rate of 70.699% (263 completions, 372 attempts). Luck finished just ahead of the old record of 70.696% by Cal's Rich Campbell in 1980 (193-273).
* Andrew Luck currently holds the Pac 10 record for most yards of total offense per game for a career, with 268.8 yards/game (6,720 yards, 25 games). The old record was 262.4 yards/game by Pat "Candy Man" Barnes of Cal. However, Luck's career average will change depending on what happens next season, so don't write this one down in ink quite yet.
* Andrew Luck set a number of Stanford records this season, including the following. (Remember that Luck's stats were compiled in 13 games, rather than 11 games as was generally the case in the past. Bowl games were not included in the stats before 2002.)
|Andrew Luck's Stanford Records, 2010|
|Total offense||3,791||3,398, Steve Stenstrom 1993|
|TD passes||32||27, John Elway 1980 & Steve Stenstrom 1993|
|Completion percentage||70.7%||68.6%, Jason Palumbis 1990|
|Pass efficiency rating||170.2||163.2, Turk Schonert 1979|
|Yards per pass attempt||9.0||8.9, Andrew Luck 2009|
|TD percentage||8.602%||8.597%, Turk Schonert 1979|
|Rushing yards by a QB||453||362, Gene Washington 1966|
* Andrew Luck became the fourth Stanford quarterback to pass for 3,000 yards in a season. He finished the season with the second most passing yards in school history:
|Passing Yards, Season|
* Andrew Luck finished in the top 10 in the nation in both yards per passing attempt (9th, 9.0 yards/att.) and yards per rushing attempt (4th, 8.2 yards/att.).
* Andrew Luck's bone-jarring tackle of USC's Shareece Wright has generated 1,282,473 views on YouTube.
* Stepfan Taylor gained the second most rushing yards in a season in Stanford history. The top three individual single-season rushing yardage totals in school history have come in the last three seasons (again, remember that these last three seasons had 12 or 13 games rather than 11):
|Rushing Yards, Season|
* Stepfan Taylor's 15 rushing TDs were tied for the third-most rushing TDs in Stanford history, behind Toby Gerhart (28 TDs in 2009) and "Touchdown Tommy" Vardell (20 TDs in 1991). Taylor tied Gerhart's 15 rushing TDs in 2008.
* Senior Nate Whitaker set new Stanford records for field goal accuracy for a season (89.5%) and for a career (80.5%).
* Nate Whitaker's total of 112 points broke his own school record for most points scored in a season by a kicker. He now has two of the four highest-scoring seasons in school history:
|Points Scored, Season|
* Nate Whitaker kicked off 96 times this season. I have no idea how to put that number in perspective. It's just such a big number that I had to throw it in somewhere.
* Ryan Whalen finishes his career ranked 13th in Stanford history in both career receptions (140) and career receiving yards (1,884).
* Chris Owusu appeared in only 7 games, but he led the team in all-purpose yards per game with 127.1 yards/game. If he had played enough games to appear in the Pac 10 stats, he would have finished 3rd in the conference in all-purpose yards per game.
* The Cardinal's tight ends had 25% of the team's receptions, which is the second-highest percentage of receptions by Stanford's tight ends since 1992 (which is as far back as my figures go). The only season since 1992 in which TEs had a higher percentage was in 2004, when the TEs accounted for 28% of receptions and TE Alex Smith led the team with 52 receptions.
* Delano Howell's 5 interceptions ranked second in the Pac 10, and were the most interceptions by a Stanford player since Tank Williams picked off 5 passes in 2001.
* Anthony Wilkerson's 408 rushing yards were the most by a Stanford freshman since Anthony Bookman ran for 577 yards in 1994.
* 17 different Stanford players scored touchdowns this season. The team scored 68 touchdowns overall. In 2006, the team scored 15 touchdowns.
* In the last 8 games of the season, Stanford's opponents attempted only 2 field goals (making both of them).
* Stanford has a home-field record of 17-2 starting with the 2007 Big Game.
* The Cardinal went undefeated at home this season for just the second time since 1940 (the other time was in 1977).
* Stanford was the least-penalized team in the Pac 10, with 5.0 penalties and 44.7 penalty yards per game.
* The USC game set a record for official attendance in the "new" Stanford Stadium - 51,607.