A Post-Luck Recovery? Analyzing Stanford's O

Devon Cajuste

Today marks the beginning of a month-plus of 2014 Stanford preview material on The Bootleg. We set the table by looking at advanced statistical trends of the Cardinal offense.



Football Outsiders claims that its Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) considers each of the nearly 20,000 possessions every season in major college football while filtering first-half clock kills and end-of-game garbage time. It's a good place to begin our examination of advanced statistics surrounding Stanford football in this golden age. We'll start with a look at the Cardinal's offensive efficiency throughout the years.

Football Outsiders Key (click here for full database)
  • OFEI: Offensive FEI, the opponent-adjusted efficiency of the given team's offense, a measure of its actual drive success against expected drive success based on field position.
  • FD: First Down rate, the percentage of offensive drives that result in at least one first down or touchdown.
  • AY: Available Yards, yards earned by the offense divided by the total number of yards available based on starting field position.
  • Ex: Explosive Drives, the percentage of each offense's drives that average at least 10 yards per play.
  • Me: Methodical Drives, the percentage of each offense's drives that run 10 or more plays.
  • Va: Value Drives, the percentage of each offense's drives beginning on its own side of the field that reach at least the opponent's 30-yard line.
  • OSOS: Offensive Strength of Schedule, the likelihood that an elite offense (two standard deviations better than average) would have an above-average OE rating against each of the defenses faced by the given team.

Stanford Offensive Efficiency: Through the Years

Year
OFEI
OFEI Rank
FD
FD Rank
AY
AY Rank
Ex
Ex Rk
Va
Va Rk
Me
Me Rk
OSOS OSOS Rk
2007
-.039
103
59.5%
102
34.5%
109
10.1%
77
29.5%
102
13.3%
68
1.7% 5
2008
.119
48
66.9%
55
44.0%
56
12.3%
47
38.9%
46
15.4%
30
4.9%
21
2009
.681
1
72.7%
18
58.8%
3
16.7%
27
55.3%
3
16.7%
27
7.7%
42
2010
.556
6
79.4%
7
60.0%
2
18.7%
19
62.6%
3
21.5%
3
15.5% 67
2011
.505
6
79.8%
5
63.1%
4
18.6%
15
60.2%
3
17.1%
26
7.8% 49
2012
.190
34
66.9%
64
45.2%
68
11.3%
79
36.6%
77
13.8%
69
3.0%
12
2013
.412
22
69.4%
51
53.6%
23
20.8%
12
47.1%
29
13.9%
73
1.3% 4

Observations
- The numbers illustrate just how weak Stanford's offense was when Jim Harbaugh first arrived in 2007: The attack gained only 34.5 percent of yardage available to it that year, a figure that would nearly double by David Shaw's first season as head coach in 2011. The first significant improvement, a 9.5-point and 53-spot surge in the available yardage department, came in 2008 (turns out a full year of sports performance director Shannon Turley and a healthy Toby Gerhart did wonders). After Andrew Luck took over in 2009, Stanford's offense completed its transformation into one of the nation's top units. Perhaps surprisingly, the Cardinal led the nation in adjusted efficiency (OFEI) that year but not in Luck's final two seasons, even though the 2010 and 2011 teams did post more impressive raw numbers across the board.

The simple explanation: The 2009 team faced a more difficult schedule (see the two columns on the far right), and the overall rankings are adjusted to take that into account. There will be more on this in the upcoming defensive efficiency analysis, but it should also be noted that Stanford's 2009 offense was tasked with overcoming the (statistically) weakest defense of the Harbaugh-Shaw era. Of course, that unit also enjoyed both Luck and Gerhart simultaneously, so perhaps it was best equipped to pick up the slack -- regardless of Luck's freshman inexperience.

- More on strength of schedule: There currently seems to be a trend toward greater difficulty in that regard for Stanford. According to Football Outsiders' metrics (two columns on the right), the 2013 offense faced the fourth most difficult road in the nation, and there's a solid chance the going will become even tougher in 2014, when the Cardinal plays half of its games on the road.

- After three excellent years under Luck, the Cardinal's precipitous 2012 offensive drop-off is apparent on the table above. Notice that the 2012 offense, quarterbacked first by Josh Nunes and then by Kevin Hogan, tumbled to efficiency levels comparable to those that Stanford saw back in 2008. Of course, the Cardinal's attack certainly improved over the course of the season, especially when Hogan took over at quarterback and significantly bettered the team's performance in the red zone (performance there, which regressed again in 2013, will be examined in a separate upcoming preview piece). Still, the defensive performance that fueled Stanford's 2012 Rose Bowl championship run seems even more remarkable in light of these offensive statistics.

- The Cardinal certainly ran into some offensive issues in 2013, but the table above does well to illustrate that the unit did, in fact, make good progress away from its 2012 struggles. That may be seen as the potential start of a promising trend, especially since Stanford's 2014 success likely hinges on continued improvement from Kevin Hogan and his unit. Not all of the 2013 offensive numbers are pretty, though, so Shaw Mike Bloomgren must devise a way to stabilize some particularly erratic performance. Improvement doesn't begin and end with Hogan; Stanford's coaching staff must also consistently put him into position to maximize his strengths for the team to fire on all cylinders.

The fact that the Cardinal's 2013 unit was the most explosive of the Harbaugh-Shaw era jumps out (20.8 percent of the team's drives fell into the 'explosive' category, best of any year under the current regime), but so does the team's lackluster Methodical Drive rating: only 13.9 percent of Stanford's drives lasted 10 plays or longer, leading to the program's worst national ranking in that category since Harbaugh took over, five spots below even the sputtering 2007 attack. The 2014 goal, then, is quite simple: The Cardinal need to ditch their mercurial 2013 offensive nature and find more stability on that side of the football. The 2010 squad's results can be seen as the gold standard here. That team managed to be simultaneously explosive (18.7 percent of drives averaged 10 yards per play or more) and stable (21.5 percent of drives lasted 10 plays or more). Assuming the relatively young yet ultra-talented offensive line adequately holds the fort, Hogan should be the pivotal player in this push toward greater balance. He'll once again have tight ends to work with, and Stanford can hope the fresh infusion of talent at that position will reinvigorate the intermediate playaction passing game that can seamlessly connect the power run and the deep pass.

- If Shaw, Bloomgren, and Hogan succeed, Stanford should see its first down, available yards, and value drive rates inch closer to their prolific 2009-2011 levels. A year after a lack of downfield punch caused major concern on the Farm, the team's offensive explosiveness is no longer an issue (credit Ty Montgomery, Devon Cajuste, and Michael Rector), but the numbers show that a lack of short-and-long balance is still standing in the way of the Cardinal and Luck-era offensive efficiency. To be fair, no. 12 set a lofty standard, and he had the benefit of working with many of the finest tight ends in program history. Stanford doesn't quite need to match this past efficiency with its new personnel to see great success in 2014, but they must find a way to at least creep back closer to the output of the glory days.

Our upcoming analysis of the team's advanced defensive statistical trends will suggest what Stanford needs on the other side of the football.




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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