The Montgomery Factor, Special Teams Preview

Here's our Stanford special teams breakdown. David Shaw provided an update on recovering wide receiver Ty Montgomery at Pac-12 Media Days.



"Hopefully, by the end of training camp, he'll be able to do more contact stuff," Shaw said at Media Day. "He might not play the first game, and it will be close for USC."

It's not 2005 anymore, and that means Stanford should roll through opening opponent UC-Davis with ease, so the guess here is that Shaw won't risk Montgomery on August 30. But his availability may be critical against the Trojans on September 6, especially considering the impact he's had for the Cardinal in the return game. It's clearly evident in the Football Outsiders' advanced special teams statistics below: Stanford has ranked either first or second nationally in special teams efficiency whenever it's enjoyed a stellar year from its kick returner (Chris Owusu 2009 and Montgomery 2013).

Speaking of an Owusu, maybe sophomore Francis Owusu, Chris' younger brother, will have an opportunity to earn consistent playing time while Montgomery works back to 100 percent.

Here's the third part of our advanced stat preview. Don't miss the offensive and defensive breakdowns, too.

Football Outsiders Key

  • STE: Special Teams Efficiency, the composite efficiency of a team's Field Goal Efficiency (FGE), Punt Return Efficiency (PRE), Kickoff Return Efficiency (KRE), Punt Efficiency (PE), and Kickoff Efficiency (KE), measured in terms of points per game. In an average game, a team is expected to attempt 1.54 field goals, punt 4.61 times, receive 4.61 punts, kick off 4.84 times and receive 4.84 kickoffs.
  • FGE: Field Goal Efficiency, the scoring value per field goal attempt earned by the field goal unit as measured against national success rates.
  • PRE: Punt Return Efficiency, the scoring value per opponent punt earned by the receiving team as measured against national return rates.
  • KRE: Kickoff Return Efficiency, the scoring value per opponent kickoff earned by the receiving team as measured against national return rates.
  • PE: Punt Efficiency, the scoring value per punt earned by the opponent's receiving team as measured against national return rates.
  • KE: Kickoff Efficiency, the scoring value per kickoff earned by the opponent's receiving team as measured against national return rates.
  • OFGE: Opponent Field Goal Efficiency, the scoring value per field goal attempt earned by the opponent's field goal unit as measured against national success rates. OFGE is not factored into total Special Teams Efficiency.

Stanford Special Teams Efficiency: Through the Years
Year
STE
STE Rank
FGE
FGE Rank
PRE
PRE Rank
KRE
KRE Rank
PE
PE Rank
KE
KE Rank
OFGE* OFGE Rank*
2007
.036
67
-32.3%
93
-1.3%
60
-8.8%
88
-5.9%
37
-15.4%
23
-9.5% 40
2008
.819
38
30.1%
19
9.2%
32
-4.6%
61
-0.9%
58
-2.4%
73
-3.8%
59
2009
4.680
1
24.8%
30
0.3%
50
43.7%
2
-14.8%
28
-30.8%
5
3.6%
56
2010
1.176
37
20.8%
43
-5.5%
60
-11.7%
77
-3.7%
66
-31.1%
7
49.4%
107
2011
-.077
63
-13.8%
70
-3.4%
55
-30.0%
113
-31.0%
5
-6.5%
69
-84.4%
2
2012
1.924
12
-17.2%
88
-0.8%
40
-9.3%
49
-13.8%
37
-42.1%
2
31.7%
101
2013
3.352
2
-8.9%
82
2.4%
29
34.1%
1
-9.2%
52
-27.0%
15
46.9% 117
*OFGE isn't factored into total Special Teams Efficiency. Best marks of Harbaugh-Shaw era in green, worst in red.

Analysis
Special teams performance seems to be more scattered than offensive or defensive results, which makes sense given the smaller sample sizes each year. Thus, there are fewer clear trends to identify here, but notice that Stanford has been exceptionally strong the past two years under special teams coach Pete Alamar. When it comes to the details of setting up returns and drawing up kick coverage schemes, Alamar is a certified guru, and it has shown in the Cardinal's results the past two years (2013 saw both the best kick and punt return national rankings for Stanford in the Harbaugh-Shaw era). Of course, Montgomery is also an awesome weapon to have back deep. A combination of excellent athleticism (thank Stanford's solid stretch of recruiting and a willingness to put top players on special teams units) and top-notch coaching has put Stanford in the top 15 nationally the past two years in special teams efficiency. Last year, the Cardinal trailed only Alabama in this category.

- Ironically, both Stanford and the Crimson Tide struggled a bit in the field goal kicking department. But they were good enough elsewhere to still assume the top two positions in the special teams efficiency rankings. As the table shows, Stanford has not finished in the top 25 for field goal efficiency since 2008, when Aaron Zagory was the team's kicker. Jordan Williamson's performance improved in 2013, and if he can raise his level of play again in 2014, the Cardinal will enjoy another boost in the special teams efficiency department.

- Despite some struggles in the field goal kicking game, it must be noted that Williamson's kickoff skills have become superb under Alamar's direction. The results show on the chart: The Cardinal ranked second nationally in kickoff efficiency last season, and much of that success can be attributed to Williamson's strong directional kicking. According to a Bootleg poster at a recent Buck Cardinal Club event, Alamar said that Williamson successfully kicked 24 balls between the right sideline and inside the five yard line last year. At this same gathering, Alamar also reportedly praised punter Ben Rhyne for reducing his touchback count from nine in 2012 to one in 2013, effectively saving the Cardinal over 150 yards of field position.

-Do not underestimate the importance of special teams: Success here has bought Stanford margin for error on offense and defense, and that breathing room has been invaluable against brutal schedules over the past half decade. Granted, the Cardinal's numbers in this category weren't stellar in 2010 and 2011, but they didn't need to be in those two years, because Andrew Luck was at the height of his college powers. But just look at the 2009, 2012, and 2013 seasons as evidence. Those three years saw exemplary Stanford special teams efficiency rankings, and that success allowed the Cardinal to occasionally overcome glaring deficiencies in the primary phases of the game.




David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.

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