Stanford Football: NCF

Points could be scarce in South Bend

October, 1, 2014
Two years ago in South Bend, Stanford and Notre Dame matched up in a defensive struggle that ended with the Irish making a goal-line stand in overtime in which they stopped Stepfan Taylor on four consecutive attempts from inside the 4-yard line.

We might see a similar a game Saturday. Stanford and Notre Dame are two of the three FBS teams that have not allowed more than 17 points in a game this season. The other is Ole Miss.

Although both teams rank in the top five of the FBS in scoring defense, they used different methods to get their results. Stanford has conceded almost nothing this season, whereas Notre Dame has taken more of a bend-but-don-t-break approach.

Despite losing several starters from last season, including Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov, Josh Mauro and Ben Gardner, Stanford might be better on defense. The Cardinal are allowing the fewest points per game (6.5) in the FBS, including shutouts against their two non-Pac-12 opponents.

They have allowed 0.39 points per drive, second-fewest in the FBS behind TCU (0.31). For some perspective, the fewest points per drive allowed by a defense in the previous 10 seasons was 0.54 by Alabama in 2011.

How good has Stanford’s defense been? Well consider these stats:

" The Cardinal are the only FBS defense allowing less than 200 yards per game and are on pace to allow the fewest passing yards per game (74.0) of any team in the last 15 seasons.

" Opponents have failed to gain a first down or score a touchdown on 55 percent of their drives against Stanford this season. Only TCU (60 percent) and Louisville (59 percent) have been better.

" Stanford has allowed the fewest plays (5) and completions (2) of 20 yards or more in the FBS this season.

" Stanford has allowed a Power Five-low 36 yards after the catch per game and has allowed three receptions of 10 or more yards after the catch, which is three fewer than any other Power Five defense.

Notre Dame
Notre Dame also appears to have reloaded on defense after some key departures. The Irish lost Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix III, Prince Shembo and Bennett Jackson to the NFL Draft and their coordinator, Bob Diaco, to UConn as head coach. Yet, they are allowing 11.5 points per game, fourth fewest in the FBS and became the first team since 1984 to shut out Michigan.

The Irish have bent this season, but rarely broke. They rank 49th in the FBS in yards per play (5.2), but sixth in points per drive (0.8). Opponents have scored on 20 percent of their drives after gaining an initial first down against the Irish, fourth best in the nation and 23 percentage points lower than the FBS average.

What has made the Irish successful?
Forcing turnovers
The Irish have forced 2.5 turnovers per game this season, tied for 16th most in the FBS.

Getting off the field on third down
Notre Dame is holding opponents to a 33 percent third-down conversion rate, down from 42 percent last year.

No penalties
Notre Dame has committed five defensive penalties this season, tied for 10th fewest in the FBS. Of those five penalties, three resulted in a first down, which is seventh-fewest.

Taylor gains tough yards in Rose Bowl win

January, 1, 2013

AP Photo/David HoodSenior running back Stepfan Taylor and the Cardinal won their first Rose Bowl since 1972.
The Stanford Cardinal defeated the Wisconsin Badgers in the Rose Bowl Game Pres. by Vizio, their first Rose Bowl win since January 1, 1972. Below is a look at how the Cardinal won their eighth straight game and why the Badgers' loss continued a discouraging trend for the Big Ten:

• Stepfan Taylor gained 50 of his team-high 88 rush yards after first contact in the Rose Bowl, including 32 of his 39 yards in the fourth quarter. It was his most yards after contact in the fourth quarter of any game this season and thanks to his touchdown in the first quarter, Taylor scored on the ground in five of Stanford’s final six games of the season.

• Stanford allowed a season-high 119 yards on carries inside the tackles in the first half against Wisconsin (5.4 yds per rush), including 76 yards on inside runs by Montee Ball. The second half was a different story, however, as Wisconsin gained just 13 yards up the middle and averaged just 1.4 yards per carry including just eight yards by Ball.

• With the loss, Wisconsin became the third team all-time and the first since Michigan from 1976-78 to lose the Rose Bowl in three consecutive seasons. The Badgers’ run is part of a stretch that has seen the Big Ten lose nine of its last 10 Rose Bowl appearances. The only Big Ten team to win a Rose Bowl during that span was Ohio State on January 1, 2010 against Oregon.

• Stanford did much of its damage on first down against Wisconsin, gaining an average of 8.2 yards per play and scoring both of its touchdowns on first down in the game.

The 8.2 yards per play marked the second-highest first-down average for the Cardinal in a game this season (8.5 versus Arizona) and was the most allowed per play by Wisconsin in a game since it gave up 11.5 to Oregon in last season’s Rose Bowl.

• Ball’s performance was not forgotten in the defeat as he rushed for 100 yards for the 10th time this season (tied for second most in FBS) and scored the last of his FBS-record 83 career touchdowns.

The Rose Bowl marked Ball’s 26th-career game in which he rushed for at least 100 yards and scored a rushing touchdown, most in the FBS since his freshman year of 2009. With the score, Ball also became the first player in history to score a touchdown in three separate Rose Bowls.

Hogan has turned Stanford offense around

January, 1, 2013

Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesKevin Hogan has made a huge impact for Stanford.

Kevin Hogan took over for a struggling Josh Nunes early in Stanford’s Week 10 game against Colorado.

From that point forward, Stanford’s offense was transformed. The Cardinal won their final five games, including four against ranked opponents, by an average margin of more than 15 points per game.

Hogan was at the center of their turnaround, outperforming former starter Nunes in the red zone, on third down and against the blitz.

Hogan showed the ability to make plays with his arm and his legs. He’s attempted 24 percent of his passes from outside of the pocket and has thrown five of his nine touchdown passes when on the move.

He’s also scrambled for 150 yards and one touchdown when forced out of the pocket. That is more than twice as many scramble yards as Nunes had in Stanford’s first eight games (73).

Hogan’s athleticism and accuracy elicit thoughts of former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

Like Luck, Hogan has also found a connection with his tight ends. Stanford tight ends have combined for 527 receiving yards and five touchdowns while catching 78 percent of the passes thrown to them in their last five games, primarily with Hogan under center. In their first eight games, they had six combined touchdowns and caught 47 percent of their targets.

Hogan has been at his best with two or more tight ends in the formation. He has completed 22 of 27 pass attempts when Stanford lines up with this personnel, including 19 of 22 passes when targeting a tight end. Since the start of the 2011 season, Stanford has thrown 24 touchdowns and no interceptions in 165 pass attempts out of two tight-end sets.

After an extra month of practice, Stanford fans are hoping for an even greater improvement from Hogan. But, as Brad Edwards notes here, freshmen often struggle after the long layoff.

Whether or not Hogan leads the Cardinal to their first Rose Bowl victory since 1972, Stanford appears to have found its quarterback of the future and replacement for Luck.

Live chat: GameDay Thursday

October, 11, 2012
Join our college football experts as they preview Week 7.

Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET.

Don't forget to send us your best tailgate pictures of your food, friends and family all week long @ESPNCFB and get your photos in our GameDay Live chat Saturday morning. Here are our previous tailgates.

Live chat: GameDay Thursday

August, 30, 2012
Take a look back at what our college football experts had to say as they examined the top 25, the Heisman darkhorses, conference power rankings and what to watch this opening weekend of college football.

Can Stanford rush to the top of the Pac-12?

August, 23, 2012

James Snook/US Presswire
David Shaw will need to rely on a strong ground game and solid defensive front to keep Stanford near top of the Pac-12.

Stanford enters the season trying to fill the holes left by four All-Pac-12 first team players taken in the first two rounds of the NFL draft -- most notably Andrew Luck. And though Stanford's quarterbacks are untested, the Cardinal return several players who saw significant action last season on both sides of the ball.

The 2011 team was more geared toward rushing and defense than most realize. Despite having Luck at quarterback, the Cardinal only passed on 44.6 percent of their plays, the ninth-highest rate in the Pac-12.

All-Conference second team running back Stepfan Taylor returns for his senior season after rushing for 1,330 yards and 10 TDs on 5.5 yards per carry last season, and he will be joined in the backfield by freshman Barry Sanders, an ESPN 150 prospect of prolific lineage.

Though David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin are gone, the remaining three offensive line starters will be supplemented by three freshman studs from the ESPN 150: No. 2 OT Andrus Peat, No. 3 OG Joshua Garrett, and No. 4 OT Kyle Murphy. This group should be fully capable of replicating the 5.3 yards per rush (12th in FBS) produced by the 2011 team.

On the other side of the ball, Stanford enters 2012 with one of the strongest front-seven units in the nation. Led by LB Chase Thomas, the lone returning All-Pac-12 first team player, and new arrival Noor Davis, the second-ranked OLB in the ESPN 150, the unit should pick up right where it left off.

The Cardinal excelled at stopping the run and pressuring opposing quarterbacks, allowing only 3.0 yards per rush and tallying 39 sacks. They were especially effective on third downs, when opponents were able to convert only 31.1 percent of their opportunities and only 26.0 percent by rush, the 2nd-lowest conversion rate in the nation.

Ultimately the questions lie with the quarterbacks and defensive backfield.

Quarterbacks Brett Nottingham and Josh Nunes have both been with the program for more than two years, and the running game should be able to alleviate much of the pressure by creating manageable down and distance situations. Last year’s team utilized a strong running game in the first half (6.3 yds per rush, 3rd in FBS) to set up Andrew Luck and the passing game in the second half (10.0 yds per att, 2nd in FBS).

The secondary will be seeking to improve on 2011, when 75 percent of the yards the team allowed were through the air, the second-highest ratio in FBS.

However, neither the quarterbacks nor the secondary will be challenged to make big plays as much as they will be tasked with simply managing mistakes.

Luck's athleticism on display at combine

February, 26, 2012
Andrew Luck is constantly praised for his accuracy, football intelligence and leadership intangibles, but on Sunday at the NFL combine he proved that his athleticism rivals the top quarterbacks in the league.

Of the 14 quarterbacks who participated in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump and broad jump at the 2012 combine, only Luck and Robert Griffin III placed in the top four in all three events. Notably, Luck posted the top broad jump of all quarterbacks, and put up comparable numbers to Cam Newton’s combine in 2011.

Unlike Newton, Luck played in a pro-style offense in college that did not ask him to run consistently. But anyone who watched Stanford throughout Luck’s career could see that he has the athleticism and mobility to succeed at the next level.

Luck was one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the nation when throwing on the run. The average quarterback completes less than 50 percent of his passes when forced to scramble outside of the pocket, but last season Luck completed 63.6 percent of these passes. He was even better when passing outside of the pocket on designed roll-outs, completing 71.8 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and just one interception on such passes.

Inside of the pocket, Luck’s mobility helped him elude pass rushers and get the ball out quickly. Luck was sacked only 23 times in his career at Stanford, about once in every 50 drop-backs. Of quarterbacks that started at least 20 games since 2009, only Kellen Moore and Brandon Weeden were sacked at lower rates.

Luck chose to remain in the pocket on the majority of the time, but when forced to scramble he averaged 5.9 yards per attempt. Overall, Luck ran for 957 yards and seven touchdowns in his career. Additionally, he caught two passes for 24 yards, including one of the most athletic plays of the season -- a one-handed, sprawling catch down the right sideline against UCLA.

So while Griffin may have stolen the spotlight by running a 4.41 40-yard dash on Sunday, Luck proved that he is one of the top athletes at the quarterback position -- a fact that may be surprising to some, but not those that have watched him closely for years.


Pac-12 Weekend Wrap: Jan. 27
Recruiting reporter Erik McKinney discusses top recruiting news from the Pac-12.