Andrew Luck might not be producing at as high a level as he did last season, and the Stanford offense has needed two quarters to get going, but Stanford is still undefeated and have yet to be seriously challenged in a four quarter game.
Right now though, one thing is clear. For all the bally-hoo about the Stanford offense, the Stanford defense has been equally superior over its conference counterparts
What makes Stanford's success so surprising is that they're doing this without their biggest playmaker in Shayne Skov, done for the season. They no longer have Sione Fua anchoring the middle at nose tackle and lost their best corner Richard Sherman to the NFL Draft.
Yet there they stand, keying Stanford along to their best start in eons. Let's take a look at each aspect.
Cfbstats.com is used here, and we're looking at all stats against FBS opponents.
Ultimately where all the success starts. Stanford has the fourth best run defense in the country at 2.08 yards per carry allowed and 60 rushing yards allowed per game against FBS opponents. Their first half numbers are almost Alabama-like, as the Cardinal drop it to around 1.07 yards per carry. The linebacking crew of Chase Thomas, Max Bergen, Jarek Lancaster and AJ Tarpley have done their best to pick up the slack for the Cardinal. Trent Murphy and James Vaughters have proven to be guys who get into the backfield and hit whoever's there, as they're the two linebackers behind Thomas and Skov who've racked up significant tackles for loss.
Not as strong, but fairly sturdy. Stanford gave up 235.3 passing yards per game, 81st in the country. Seems pretty bad at first, until you realize Stanford is always up on their opponents, meaning their opponents always have to start passing it up by the third quarter. Stanford gave up 6.6 passing yards per pass attempt, bumping them up to 36th, and more impressively only FOUR touchdowns this season, tied for 4th! Add in 3.83 sacks per game (tied for 4th), and despite their lack of turnover success, the Cardinal defense is a pretty complete unit.
Two stats really define Stanford--their ability to shut down offenses on third down, and their ability to stuff teams in the red zone. Arizona State tops them in both categories (barely), but Stanford is right behind them. You figure the Cardinal will fall back to the pack when they face Washington, USC and Oregon down the line (ASU will avoid Stanford and Washington, lucky them), but if those numbers dip rather than plummet? This defense will have done a pretty monumental job.
Strength of schedule
If there's anything you want to point as a flaw in Stanford's strong defensive resume, all you have to do is look at the schedule. ASU has USC and Oregon on their resume, which are pretty up there. Stanford's got a lot of ground to pick up.
Duke might be .500, but they're still Duke. Colorado was without Paul Richardson, Washington State had just reintroduced Jeff Tuel back in at quarterback, and his receivers had one of the worst performances you'll ever see from a Pac-12 unit this season. This isn't exactly the résumé of champion-beating Stanford is sporting here.
Still, they do have one big victory against a potent offense. They shutdown Nick Foles and the Arizona Wildcats by holding them to ten points (a unit that shredded Oregon for 31 and USC for 41 points in concurrent weeks).
Stanford will get their first real true test against a complete offense against the Washington Huskies. Keith Price, Matt Barkley and LaMichael James await.
After the jump, the stats.
1. Stanford Cardinal: 4th (2.08 ypc allowed)
2. Utah Utes: 10th (2.86 ypc)
3. USC Trojans: 27th (3.41 ypc)
4. Washington Huskies: 29th (3.44 ypc)
5. California Golden Bears: T-65th (4.34 ypc)
6. Oregon Ducks: T-67th (4.35 ypc)
7. Washington St. Cougars: 69th (4.39 ypc)
8. Oregon St. Beavers: T-72nd (4.47 ypc)
9. Arizona St. Sun Devils: T-75th (4.60 ypc)
10. Colorado Buffaloes: T-77th (4.61 ypc)
11. UCLA Bruins: 98th (4.95 ypc)
12. Arizona Wildcats: 118th (6.19 ypc)
Pac-12 tackles for loss
1. Stanford: T-10th (8 TFL/G)
2. California: T-34th (6.80 TFL/G)
3. Oregon: T-36th (6.60 TFL/G)
4. Utah: T-41st (6.40 TFL/G)
5. Arizona State: T-60th (5.50 TFL/G)
6. Washington: T-63rd (5.40 TFL/G)
7. Colorado: T-70th (5.29 TFL/G)
8. USC: T-78th (5.00 TFL/G)
9. Washington State: T-97th (4.40 TFL/G)
10. UCLA: 104th (4.17 TFL/G)
11. Arizona: T-105th (4.00 TFL/G)
12. Oregon State: T-111th (3.80 TFL/G)
1. Oregon: T-16th (6.0 YPA allowed)
2. Utah: 28th (6.4 YPA)
3. Stanford: T-32nd (6.6 YPA)
4. USC: T-43rd (6.8 YPA)
T-5. Arizona State: T-48th (6.9 YPA)
T-5. UCLA: T-48th (6.9 YPA)
7. Washington: T-71st (7.5 YPA)
8. Washington State: T-78th (7.6 YPA)
9. California: T-90th (7.8 YPA)
10. Colorado: T-100th (7.8 YPA)
11. Oregon State: 106th (8.2 YPA)
12. Arizona: 107th (8.4YPA)
Pac-12 passing touchdowns allowed
1. Stanford: T-4th (4 TDs allowed)
T-2. Arizona State & Oregon: T-41st (8 TDs)
4. Utah: T-53rd (9 TDs)
T-5. USC & Washington: T-63rd (10 TDs)
T-7. UCLA & Washington State: T-78th (11 TDs)
9. California: T-88th (12 TDs)
10. Arizona: T-98th (13 TDs)
11. Oregon State: T-107th (14 TDs)
12. Colorado: T-117th (18 TDs)
Pac-12 3rd down conversions allowed
1. Arizona State: 4th (25.97%)
2. Stanford: 7th (27.71%)
3. Oregon: 28th (34.94%)
4. Utah: 47th (37.97%)
5. California: 52nd (38.89%)
6. USC: 84th (44.58%)
7. Arizona: 104th (47.69%)
8. Oregon State: 106th (48.39%)
9. Washington: 107th (48.57%)
10. Colorado: 109th (51.14%)
11. Washington State: 110th (51.47%)
12. UCLA: 117th (54.84%)
Pac-12 red zone touchdowns allowed
1. Arizona State: 13th (46.15%)
2. Stanford: T-17th (47.06%)
3. California: 40th (52.63%)
4. Oregon: 41st (54.17%)
5. Utah: 50th (57.14%)
6. Washington & UCLA: T-63rd (60%)
8. Arizona: 104th (72.41%)
9. USC: 109th (75%)
10. Colorado: 110th (75.76%)
11. Washington State: 112th (77.78%)
12. Oregon State: 120th (81.82%)