Cardinal Numbers: UCLA

Room for improvement

New columnist for The Bootleg, Terry Johnson, provides his analysis of the statistics of the UCLA game. If you love crunching numbers, stats and figures, you will want to arm yourself with these valuable nuggets on the "Cardinal Numbers."

Sifting through the statistics from Stanford's season opener against UCLA...

Offense

Stanford's 383 total yards against UCLA were only a moderate offensive output by normal standards. However, these have not been normal times at Stanford. We've had some historically anemic offenses here in the last few years. In fact, Stanford is coming off perhaps the worst offensive season in school history. Some of the statistics from last season's truly offensive offense:

2006 Offense
  All Games Pac-10 Games
Points/Game 10.6 8.2
Yards/Game 231.9 199.4
First Downs/Game 13.6 11.4

That's right – the school of Plunkett and Elway, of Warner and Walsh, averaged fewer than 200 yards per game of total offense in conference games last season. The overall average of 231.9 yards/game was lowest single-season offensive output in the Stanford record book, which goes back to 1951.

In comparison to last year's performance, Stanford's 383 yards of offense and its 21 first downs on Saturday look like progress. Not enough progress, but at least a step in the right direction. In fact, the 383 yards and 21 first downs were more than Stanford had in any conference game last season. The 21 first downs in particular were encouraging, given Stanford's inability to move the chains last year. So, to offense-deprived Stanford fans, Saturday's offensive production was like a little taste of water after a long march through the desert.

For a school that built its national reputation on throwing the ball, the last few years have been especially frustrating. We used to take it for granted that we would see footballs flying around the stadium on Saturdays. But over the last five seasons, big passing days have been few and far between.

T.C. Ostrander's 331 passing yards against UCLA were the most passing yards by a Stanford QB since 2001. Stanford quarterbacks have had only one other 300-yard passing game in the last five seasons: Trent Edwards' 303-yard game against Arizona State in 2005. Stanford could have gained significantly more passing yardage against UCLA. The opportunities were there. It's somewhat encouraging that even though Stanford didn't take advantage of all of its opportunities, Stanford still managed to gain 331 passing yards.

I realize it took 59 pass attempts to get the 331 yards, which isn't very good (just 5.6 yards per attempt). That needs to improve. But the positive side is that at least Stanford was picking up enough first downs to give us the chance to throw that many passes. We would have had a hard time throwing that many passes in a game last year because we weren't picking up enough first downs to give us the chance.

Stanford's offense still needs plenty of improvement. But at least there are signs that Stanford has some hope of breaking out of the five-year offensive slump in which we've been stuck.


Defense

On defense, it's harder to find signs of hope. Saturday's game against UCLA was a disaster for the defense. It was one of the worst defensive performances in Stanford history:

Most Yards Allowed
Opponent Year Yards
Arizona St. 1981 734
Washington 1999 670
Oregon 1998 664
Notre Dame 2005 663
Oregon St. 2003 663
UCLA 1982 651
UCLA 1973 650
UCLA 2007 624

If you're like me, you can remember most of those games... not that I really want to.

Stanford's new defensive scheme has been called an "attack 4-3 defense." It seems to me that an attacking defense should generate big plays – turnovers, sacks, and tackles for loss. So how did the defense do on Saturday?

Stanford's defense didn't create any turnovers. That needs to change. The defense had one sack, and one other play that would have been a sack if the UCLA quarterback had not intentionally grounded the ball. That's not enough.

Stanford's defense did have some success in creating tackles for loss. Stanford had 9 tackles for loss on Saturday. I find that somewhat encouraging. One of the problems with Stanford's defense last season was the inability to create negative yardage plays. Stanford averaged only 3.8 tackles for loss per game last season, and didn't have more than 6 tackles for loss in any game. Over the last five seasons, Stanford averaged only 5.8 tackles for loss per game. The 9 tackles for loss against UCLA could provide us with a small glimpse of what the "attack 4-3" is supposed to do.

So, amid the wreckage of Stanford's defense on Saturday, this may be one small ray of hope. Now, Stanford has to figure out how to stop the opponent from making big plays, while still maintaining its own ability to get into the backfield and make plays.


Random Numbers

UCLA punted 7 times on Saturday. Last year, Stanford didn't force the seventh punt by an opponent until Stanford's fourth game of the season...

Bo McNally's 15 tackles tied last season's team-high for a single game: 15 tackles by Michael Okwo against Washington State. The last Stanford player with more tackles in a game appears to have been David Bergeron, with 16 tackles against Oregon State in 2004. McNally is tied for the Pac-10 lead in tackles...

T.C. Ostrander leads the Pac-10 in passing yardage (331 yards/game) and total offense (288 yards/game)...

Richard Sherman is averaging 112 receiving yards per game in his last four games...

Ostrander's 59 pass attempts were tied the third most in Stanford history, behind Steve Smith (68 attempts vs. Notre Dame, 1989) and John Elway (63 attempts vs. Ohio State, 1982)...

Three Stanford players are among the top eight players in the Pac-10 in receiving yards: Richard Sherman (2nd, 100 yards), Evan Moore (6th, 87 yards), and Jim Dray (8th, 72 yards)...

 


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