Gary Doran

Pac-12 Preview Stanford: An Old School Blueprint for Success


Stanford University is surrounded in the bay area by some of the most innovative forward-thinking companies in the world, so one would assume that a Stanford football team would emulate this same kind of state-of-the-art thinking.  However, David Shaw and his teams rely on a tried and true method to win football games.  Stanford lines up their guys, who just happen to be bigger and stronger than the opponents’ guy, and then pushes these other guys all around the field for sixty minutes.  It’s that simple.

The blueprints for this “old school” type of team was started at Stanford by Jim Harbaugh in 2007, and has been maintained flawlessly by the current coach David Shaw, who enters his fourth year as the unflappable top man in Palo Alto.  While the introduction of new innovative spread offenses, and the fleet defenses built in the same manner is the all the rage throughout college football, Shaw’s Stanford teams have remained steadfast in their allegiance to “old school” traditional football with a great amount of success.

The Stanford Defense for 2014

In projecting the coming season, the Stanford team that takes the field in 2014 may not look a lot different physically than the one that ran rough shod over the entire league in 2013, however, they may not fully live up to the tough guy standards set by last year’s team either.  In 2013, they were the tough guys on the playground taking lunch money from the smaller undersized spread offenses so prevalent now in the Pac-12.  A big question for the coming year is if Stanford can continue taking advantage of its smaller conference opponents?

Stanford lost several key members of its stout and stellar defense, however, they do have talent and depth on the defensive sidelines. The Cardinal defense will probably still rank towards the top of many conference defensive categories in 2014, based on the size and athleticism of both the veteran and replacement players. The major difference could be that this group may not completely stonewall every other Pac-12 offense in the coming season as their predecessors did in 2013.  If that’s the case, many offensive coordinators in the conference might just be breathing a little easier this fall.

A Statistical Look Back at the Tough Guys of 2013

In 2013, Stanford only gave up seven touchdowns in the first half of its nine conference games, and five of those touchdowns were against the two teams that beat them (Utah and USC).  It is interesting that those two teams did not run spread or up-tempo offenses last year.  Wonder if the spread offenses around the conference took notice of this?

Offensive Ranking of the Teams Held without a Touchdown

  Full Game PAC 12
1st Half Pts. PAC 12 Avg. Ranking
ASU 0 44.2 1st
Ore 0 41.9 2nd
OSU 3 33.4 4th
UCLA 0 31.1 6th
WSU 3 27.1 9th
TOTAL 3 35.5


Stanford held five of its nine opponents without a touchdown in the first half.

That is the definition of defense.  The list of high-powered offenses technically shutout for a half is pretty impressive.  Four out of five of those teams were spread offenses, built to score and score fast.  In fact, in the first quarter of its Pac-12 games, the Stanford defense forced three offensive plays and a punt in nearly one-third of the drives it faced.

In all nine of their conference games, no opponents scored a touchdown in all four quarters of play against the Stanford defense.  In fact, Washington was the only opponent to score a touchdown in more than two quarters last year.   Also, no opponent scored more than 14 points in a single quarter, except ASU and Oregon, which both did it in the fourth quarter when both teamstrailed significantly.  ASU first scored in the fourth quarter, trailing by 32 points, and Oregon was behind by 26 points when they scored their touchdowns, one of them being off special teams.

The 2013 Stanford Defense: Who You Calling a Nerd?

Scoring Defense 1st
Total Defense 2nd
Rushing Defense 1st
Passing Defense 9th
Passing Defense Efficiency 6th
Interceptions Made 7th
Sacks Made 2nd
1st Downs Allowed 4th
3th Down Conversions Allowed 1st
Red Zone Defense 2nd


The Stanford’s defense was either first or second in six out of ten defensive categories this past year.  From a statistical standpoint, their only apparent weakness seemed to be against the pass, however, that also might be a bit misleading as several teams passed late and often in their games in trying to get back into the contest.  In many cases, it was already too late.

The 2013 Stanford Offense: Get Out of My Way I’m Coming Through

Stanford football was all about stopping their opponent on defense, getting ahead and then pounding the ball on the ground.  In conference games, Stanford ran the ball almost twice as much as it passed the ball, (377-208).  The Cardinal threw the fewest number of passes in the conference last year. The next fewest passes by a conference team was USC throwing almost 50 passes more than the Cardinal.  Stanford’s quarterback Kevin Hogan was the only starting signal caller in the conference that threw fewer than 200 passes.

Scoring Offense 5th
Total Offense 8th
Rushing Offense 5th
Passing Offense 12th
Passing Efficiency 3rd
Sacks Allowed 1st
1st Downs Made 10th
3rd Down Conversions Made 1st
Red Zone Offense 5th
Time of Possession 2nd


A Look at the Ground Game

Last year, Stanford had the number five rusher in the conference in senior Tyler Gaffney who ran for over 1,000 yards in nine conference games.  Add to that the 226 yards generated by Kevin Hogan on the ground and those two accounted for about two-thirds of the team’s valuable rushing yards.  Additionally, Gaffney tied for second in the conference in rushing touchdowns with 13.   If you also add in the two touchdown runs by Kevin Hogan, those two accounted for 75 percent of the team’s rushing touchdowns in 2013.

All those grind out yards on the ground helped Stanford finish the season 2nd in the conference in time possessing the football.  That in turn helped limit the number of times a Stanford opponent ran an offensive play.  Last year, the Stanford defense averaged facing only about 12 offensive drives per game by its opponents, roughly three drives per quarter.

Now that Gaffney has moved on, Stanford has a stable full of potential replacements.  The biggest difference is going to be that none of them equal the size of the departed Gaffney, who was so dependable in gaining those very tough short yards.  That dependability was such a critical asset in the Cardinal offense in 2013.   Will one or more of the running backs be able to pound out those hard yards needed in 2014?

A New Group of Big Fellas

A very important key to the running game success is a dominant offensive line. There was no group better than the 2013 Stanford offensive big guys.   The problem for the 2014 team is that there will only be one familiar face on the offensive line this fall; Arizona’s own Andrus Peat.  With many other teams this might be a major concern, however, with Stanford, there is a stable of very large Clydesdales in the locker room barn waiting their turn to pulling the wagon.

Seeing that much changeover with this group could have some impact on the effectiveness for 2014.  The 2013 offensive line was so crucial in consistently being able to assert its will on other teams.  Have other PAC 12 defensive coordinators come up with innovative ways this past offseason to slow down this newer group of Stanford big fellas?  Will there be any drop off in the ability of the Stanford offensive line to continually push other defensive teams around, and if so, how much?

The Passing Game

With the ground game having such a strong emphasis, the 2013 passing game for Stanford played somewhat of a second fiddle role.  Stanford’s quarterback, Kevin Hogan finished the season 11th in the conference in passing yards per game averaging less than 200 per contest. He did, however, end the season 4th in the conference in passing efficiency.  He was also 2nd in the conference in needing to throw only 15.1 passes for every touchdown pass he threw.  However, Hogan was also 2nd among starting quarterbacks in throwing the most interceptions per pass attempts in conference play, at one interception for every 32.7 passes.  Colorado’s true freshman Sefo Liufau was the only other starting quarterback in the conference to throw more interceptions per pass attempts last year at 28.9.

As far as pass completions, there were only three conference teams with lower completion percentages than Stanford, and the combined record of those three teams was a meager three wins and 24 losses.  Clearly, Stanford’s passing game was not its primary weapon.  Will that be the case in 2014?  Based on the changes in the running game and offensive line personnel, will Kevin Hogan and the passing games be a bigger part of the offense in 2014 if needed?  Will Hogan be ready to successfully carry more of the load with his arm this year?

The Receiving Corp.

Stanford will have the big play potential again this coming year with senior Ty Montgomery who was 7th in the conference last year in receiving yards per game at roughly 70 yards per contest.  He averaged 15.3 yards per catch.  Montgomery also had seven touchdown catches, with four of them going for 30 yards or more.  He caught a touchdown pass once every 5.7 receptions.  Montgomery will again be the big play threat Stanford possesses to hopefully go along with it’s grinding run game.

Stanford is also expecting to see the re-emergence of the tight end position in the passing game this coming season in the form of redshirt freshman Austin Hooper.  That too could definitely help Kevin Hogan and the Stanford passing game in 2014.

Stanford’s Blueprint for 2014

This year’s team will likely be big and strong as in years past; however, it remains to be seen if the level of play on both sides of the ball can match that of the 2013 group.  Since the defense’s ability to completely thwart its opponents is a major component of the Stanford success formula, any appreciable drop off in its effectiveness should also have an impact on the success of the offense.  Additionally, the offensive line is also a critical piece in the Stanford blueprint for success, so any drop off in its effectiveness will also have major implications to overall success.

There is also the question of how much improvement will there be in the play of quarterback Kevin Hogan, who will probably be asked to do more with his arm this coming year.  Stanford also needs to find a running back that can pound out those tough yards on the ground doing it with potential candidates that possess smaller frames than the 2013 workhorse. Finally, will any of the smaller, more agile speedy PAC 12 teams develop innovative ways to offset the Stanford blueprint for success…old school power football?   The biggest question for the coming year is: will the blueprint hold again for the 2014 season?  Time will tell.

Stanford Tidbits:

  • There were only three conference games in which Stanford turned the ball over more than once, Utah, Oregon State and USC.  Two of those games were their only losses they suffered during the year.
  • Stanford was the only conference team to hold its opponents under 1,000 rushing yards for all nine games (665), and the only team to hold opponents to less than 10 rushing touchdowns (5).  The next closest team, (Utah) gave up almost double the rushing yardage and rushing touchdowns.

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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1 Comment

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    August 15, 2017 at 9:10 AM

    Additionally, the offensive line is also a critical piece in the Stanford blueprint for success, so any drop off in its effectiveness will also have major implications to overall success.

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