Cardinal Numbers: "Sudden Change"

Maynor will return vs. OSU

For those of us obsessed with the collection, analysis, interpretation and presentation of data, The Bootleg's Contributing Columnist & Senior Statistician Terry Johnson tackles the importance of handling "sudden change" situations. Read on for an appreciation of the impact of turnovers and a look at how far the Cardinal "D" has come in learning to respond to unexpected adverse circumstances.

After Stanford's win against Arizona, Stanford defensive coordinator Scott Shafer talked about how well his defense responded to "sudden change" situations. By "sudden change," Shafer was referring to situations in which the defense found itself unexpectedly taking the field after a Stanford turnover.

Against Arizona, Stanford's defense faced three "sudden change" situations in quick succession, as Stanford's offense committed three consecutive turnovers in the third quarter. Two of those Stanford turnovers were inside Stanford's own 35 yard line. Arizona had a chance to exploit those turnovers and build on its 17-14 lead, perhaps putting the game out of reach.

But the Cardinal defense rose to the challenge. Stanford allowed Arizona to score only three points on those three possessions. Despite the three straight turnovers, Stanford was able to stay within one touchdown. Stanford's defensive success in the third quarter turned out to be a key to the game. The defense's response to the "sudden change" situations allowed the Cardinal to stay close and eventually to win the game with a fourth quarter touchdown.

Last week wasn't the first time Shafer has talked about the importance of the defense's response to "sudden change" situations. It seems to be a point of emphasis for Shafer – one of his "measurables." (For example, see this article.) Other coaches also talk about "sudden change" situations as a test of the defense. I thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at "sudden change" situations as a measure of defensive performance. How well has Stanford's defense done this season in responding to "sudden changes" after Stanford turnovers? How does this year's performance in "sudden change" situations compare to the team's performance in the past?

We also can look at how an offense responds to "sudden change" situations. After a turnover, the offense has an opportunity to take advantage of the change of momentum by putting points on the board. Although "sudden change" performance is generally a defensive concept, it might be interesting as a point of reference to look at how well Stanford's offense has done in exploiting the "sudden change" opportunities when Stanford recovers turnovers.

While most turnovers create "sudden change" situations, that is not always the case. For example, shortly before halftime in the Arizona State game this year, ASU intercepted a Stanford pass and returned it for a touchdown. Obviously, the Stanford defense didn't get on the field after the interception. Therefore, the turnover didn't create a "sudden change" situation for the Stanford defense. Another example occurred in the Arizona game, when Arizona fumbled near the end of the game and Stanford recovered. At that point in the game, the only goal of the Stanford offense was to run out the clock. Stanford's offense did not attempt to exploit the "sudden change" to score points, instead taking a knee on fourth down in the red zone. This wasn't a true "sudden change" situation for Stanford's offense or for Arizona's defense because the offense wasn't trying to take advantage of the turnover by scoring.

In putting together the data regarding "sudden changes," I excluded such situations. I limited the analysis to true "sudden change" situations, in which one team's offense was trying to exploit a turnover by scoring, and the opposing defense was trying to prevent it.

Defense's Response to Sudden Change Situations

Stanford's defense in "sudden change" situations has improved considerably so far this season. Apparently, Shafer's emphasis is paying off:

Stanford's Defense After "Sudden Changes"
YearNumber of
Sudden
Change
Situations
Number
of Times
Opponent
Scored
Opponent's
Scoring
Percentage
Total
Points
Allowed
Average
Points
Allowed
200710440%202.0
2006171059%663.9
200514857%483.4

The improvement is more striking when we look at the "sudden change" situations with the highest risk and the greatest pressure – the situations in which the defense must take the field after Stanford has turned the ball over in its own territory. When the defense must defend a short field, the odds are against it. An offense that already is in, or near, field goal range, can be expected to score points much of the time. So far this year, Stanford's defense has done extraordinarily well in those situations:

Stanford's Defense After "Sudden Changes"
In Stanford Territory
YearNumber of
Sudden
Change
Situations
Number
of Times
Opponent
Scored
Opponent's
Scoring
Percentage
Total
Points
Allowed
Average
Points
Allowed
20076233%61.0
200610880%525.2
200512867%484.0

Last season, the Stanford defense was not able to stop its opponents following Stanford turnovers in Stanford territory, allowing seven touchdowns and a field goal in ten such situations. So far this season, it has been a completely different story. The Stanford defense has allowed only two field goals in six such "sudden change" situations. The Stanford defense has been playing better following turnovers in Stanford territory than it has been playing the rest of the time. Coach Shafer and the defense have done quite a good job in this area to date.

This performance is consistent with what we've seen in some of the other areas Shafer has emphasized. Shafer brought an "attack defense" style to Stanford, with the goal of creating big defensive plays, such as tackles for loss, sacks, and turnovers. We have seen improvement (if not consistency) from Stanford in all of these areas. Likewise, so far this season, Shafer is having some success in building a defense that can step up its game to respond to sudden change situations. The defense's overall statistics have not been particularly impressive. But in this area, as in some other areas, we can see some indications of what Shafer is trying to build and the progress he is making.

Offense's Response to Sudden Change Situations

On the offensive side of the ball, an opponent's turnover provides an opportunity. When an offense can convert an opponent's turnover into points, it can create swing in momentum that can change the course of the game. So far this year, Stanford's offense has improved considerably in exploiting opponents' turnovers:

Stanford's Offense After "Sudden Changes"
YearNumber of
Sudden
Change
Situations
Number
of Times
Stanford
Scored
Stanford's
Scoring
Percentage
Total
Points
Scored
Average
Points
Scored
200710770%494.9
200614536%271.9
200516744%372.3

Stanford's offense has been in ten sudden change situations and has taken advantage of them, scoring seven touchdowns. Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator David Shaw have done a good job of turning the momentum in their favor following turnovers. That has been especially true when the offense is the beneficiary of a turnover in the opponent's territory:

Stanford's Offense After "Sudden Changes"
In Opponent's Territory
YearNumber of
Sudden
Change
Situations
Number
of Times
Stanford
Scored
Stanford's
Scoring
Percentage
Total
Points
Scored
Average
Points
Scored
20075480%285.6
20067457%243.4
20058675%344.3

So far this season, Stanford's offense has scored four touchdowns in five opportunities following turnovers by opponents in their own end of the field. That shows some killer instinct. In comparing this year to last year, it might be useful to note that while the last year's offense scored 24 points in "sudden change" situations in opponents' territory, 21 of those points came against San Jose State. In the other 11 games, the offense scored just one field goal in four such "sudden change" situations.

Random Numbers

Jim Harbaugh, who was known as "Captain Comeback" when he was a player, has led his team to two fourth quarter comeback wins in the last three weeks. That exceeds the number of fourth quarter comeback wins by Stanford in the last five seasons combined – one, at BYU in 2003...

Stanford's first four games this season were decided by an average margin of 31.8 points. The last three games have been decided by an average margin of 1.3 points...

When Richard Sherman lost a fumble against Arizona, it was the first time this season that a Stanford running back or receiver lost a fumble on an offensive play. The offense has just lost three fumbles; the other two were by the quarterback...

In his last 12 games (the equivalent of one full season), Richard Sherman has 1,009 receiving yards...

Tavita Pritchard has been sacked slightly more frequently than T.C. Ostrander – once once every 8.6 pass attempts for Pritchard, compared to once for every 9.9 pass attempts for Ostrander. However, Pritchard has more rushing yards – 44 net rushing yards for Pritchard, compared to negative 121 net rushing yards for Ostrander...

Bo McNally is averaging 10 tackles per game, which would put him on a pace to make 120 tackles this season. The last Stanford player to make more than 100 tackles in a season was Tim Smith in 1998 (109 tackles)...

Stanford has more rushing yards in seven games this season (818 yards) than it had all of last season (781 yards)...

Although Jason Evans led the team in rushing in 2005 (with 248 yards), he had never started a game until last Saturday against Arizona. His first start resulted in a career-high 78 rushing yards. He finishes his Stanford career with 975 career all purpose yards...

TheBootleg.com Recommended Stories


  • Stanford Head Coach David Shaw says it is time to fix the struggling offense

  • Everyone knows the questions surrounding Stanford’s offense, but what are the solutions? Troy submits some ideas to the Cardinal’s suggestion box.

  • SAN FRANCISCO -- Some quick hit comments from Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott on the state of the Pac-12 and some new initiatives that are coming this men's basketball season, including an update on…

  • Every week, Fantasy Football Expert Jeb Gorham digs in his list of rankings to find the best sleepers for deeper formats. Consider giving these players a chance, but be aware of the risk! Tampa Bay…

  • Check out this classic video of Dan Larson battling an acrobatic sailfish on a trip to the world-famous Tropic Star Lodge in Panama.

Up Next


Tweets