Gary Doran

Breaking Down the Pac-12 Championship Teams


This week we’ll take a look at the Pac-12 Championship featuring the Stanford Cardinal from the North Division and the USC Trojans from the South Division. The format is the same as in the regular season previews, with a few modifications. The comparisons are from both an offensive and a defensive standpoint. As always, we want to thank for their excellent compilation of statistics, along with the stats provided by the Pac-12 Conference, the Conference of Champions!



The Stanford Cardinal are averaging roughly one point per game more than the Trojans while running about four plays less per game. The Stanford offense runs the ball roughly two out of every three plays, and averages over five yards per carry on all those runs. The USC offense is closer to a 50-50 mix of run and pass, and averages over four and a half yards per carry.

Because of the effectiveness of the Stanford running game, it sets up the passing game very well, as the Cardinal average roughly a half a yard more per pass attempt compared to that of the Trojans, (9.11-8.57). Additionally, the Stanford offense has averaged fewer pass attempts per touchdown passes. For the season, both quarterbacks complete better than two out of every three pass attempts.

A real eye-opener is the Cardinal offense converting over 50-percent of their third downs, while the Trojans converted roughly 40-percent of their third down chances. Another interesting stat is seeing that Stanford didn’t rely that much during the season on turnovers, as less than eight percent of their points came from a turnover. On the other hand, USC got over 21-percent of their total points from a turnover.


The Trojan defense faced an average of five more plays per game than the Cardinal defense and gave up one and a half more points per game too. Both defenses faced pretty close to a 50-50 mix of running and passing plays from their opponents.

Overall, the average yards per play given up by the two defenses was fairly close. The difference came in the fact that the Trojan run defense did better than the Cardinal in the average yards per carry they allowed, (3.84-4.54), while the Cardinal pass defense did better than the Trojans in the yards per pass attempt allowed (6.88-7.59). Where the Stanford defense really stood out was in their own red zone, where they only allowed 44-percent of opponents drives to score touchdowns, second best in the Pac-12.

The Trojans best defensive attribute is that they are the best in the conference at limiting opponents in converting a third down into a first down. Stanford was third in the conference.

In the Havoc-related defensive stats, USC was tied for second in the conference with Oregon in the number of sacks made, while Stanford was eleventh. In tackles for losses by the defenses, USC was sixth in the conference and Stanford was tenth. In the number of interceptions made, USC was third in the conference, while Stanford was dead last.

Points by Quarter


Although USC has only scored five points more than its opponents in the first quarter of play while Stanford scored 31 more points than its opponents, by halftime USC has outscored its opponents by 89 point and Stanford by 99 points. The fourth quarter is the quarter where both teams have their worse point differential, as USC has actually been outscored in the fourth quarter.

Both offenses score the most points in the second quarter and second most in the third quarter. Stanford gives up the most points coming out of halftime, while the Trojans give up the least..  Neither team’s defense gives up a lot of points in any one quarter specifically.

Situational Statistics

Winsipedia Historical Comparison

Rush Offense


Stanford is third in the conference in yards per carry on first down, while the Trojans are eleventh. On second down USC jumps to sixth, while Stanford is right behind them at seventh. Stanford is third in the conference in yards per carry on third down, while USC is fifth. Both teams do very well running the ball in the red zone, as Stanford is third and USC fourth in the conference. When it comes to rushing touchdowns, Stanford is tied with Oregon with the most, while the Trojans were sixth.

Pass Offense


USC leads the conference in completion percentage on first down, while Stanford is not far behind at third. On second down, Stanford tops the conference in completion percentage, while USC drops to eighth. In the all-important third down, USC jumps back up to first in the conference in completion percentage, while Stanford drops to seventh. In the red zone, both passing games click, as Stanford is second in the conference in completion percentage, while USC is fourth. In the number of touchdown passes thrown, USC is fourth in the conference, while Stanford is tied for sixth.

Rush Defense


On first down carries, the Stanford run defense is sixth in the conference in the yards per carry it allows, while USC is right behind at seventh. On second down, USC jumps to second in the conference in limiting yards per carry on the ground, while Stanford is seventh. USC leads the conference in limiting yards per carry on third down runs, while Stanford is way back at ninth. Neither run defense did that well in the red zone, as USC was eighth and Stanford tenth in the average yards per carry they allowed. The two teams tied for fourth in the conference in limiting the number of rushing touchdowns they allowed.

Pass Defense


Based on the percentage of completions allowed, Stanford is tenth and USC is eleventh in limiting first down pass completions. On second down, Stanford get much tighter in jumping up to second in limiting the percentage of passes completed, while USC stays somewhat generous at ninth. On the all-important third down, Stanford leads the conference in limiting the percentage of completions, while USC only rises to eighth.

When it comes to allowing a third down to be converted to a first down via the pass, USC is fifth and Stanford is eighth in the percentage of passes that convert to a first down. When opponents are in their red zones, Stanford is first in the conference in limiting the percentage of completed passes, while USC is tenth. Stanford is also second in the conference in limiting the number of red zone touchdowns allowed, while USC is tied for fourth. Finally, Stanford is third in limiting the number of touchdown passes given up, while USC is seventh.

What the Numbers Mean

The Stanford offense runs the ball effectively and does it quite often in their games. That effectiveness in turn helps make the passing game be effective too in shorter down and distances. USC’s run defense does fairly well on second and third down, but not as well on first down, which is when Stanford seems to be most productive on the ground. Cutting down Stanford’s yards per carry on first down should be a key for the USC run defense.

Third down will be an interesting down, as Stanford is first in the conference in converting first downs on offense and USC is first in the conference in limiting first down conversions. Another interesting area will be the Stanford red zone, where the Stanford defense gets a bit stingy through the air, while the USC offense is fairly capable close to their opponents’ goal line. USC’s vertical passing game against Stanford’s stout pass defense on third down and in the red zone will be another area to watch.

USC has taken advantage of turnovers much more this season, as they are first in the conference in turnover margin at +13, while Stanford has been able to win regularly this season while posting a negative turnover margin for the year. It appears that turnovers could play a bigger part for the Trojans than the Cardinal.  Enjoy the game.

About Gary Doran

Gary Doran

Gary graduated from ASU many years ago. After careers working in banking, finance and the financial administration of academic research funding, he is now interested in utilizing his passion for numbers towards two things he thoroughly loves; Arizona State University and college football. He is looking forward to finding the “stories” buried within the numbers on a football stat sheet. He has gone to ASU football games all the way back to the days of Frank Kush and the WAC. He has been married to an amazing ASU graduate for almost forty years, and they currently live in Ventura, CA. Although this may disqualify him from talking football, he and his wife enjoy the practice of yoga and dancing the Argentine Tango. Ole!

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