Fizzle After the First
But, upon closer examination, one realizes that the drop in offensive output isn't perfectly symmetrical. There's more to glean from Stanford's offensive trends than simple post-Luck struggles.
Despite averaging over two fewer touchdowns per game, the 2012 Farm Boys actually outscored their 2011 counterparts in the first quarter of contests, 103-88. This statistic is remarkable considering the 2011 team's overall offensive statistical superiority. Aside from demonstrating the effectiveness of Stanford's early-game offensive script, it underscores the Cardinal's mid-game struggles, the most notable of which came when the team went scoreless for 10 straight possessions at Oregon. The Farm Boys also didn't find the end zone at the Rose Bowl after the game's first two possessions.
"So many times, we came out clicking, executing," Stanford assistant Mike Sanford said. "Then the defense adjusted to what we were doing, and it took us a while to counter-adjust. We stopped executing as well. But we were still inflicting physical wear and tear with the run, and those body blows started to open things back up late."
The Oregon State win followed that exact trajectory. The Cardinal scored two quick touchdowns; the offense then went underwater before re-emerging in the fourth quarter. The Beavers, in fact, scored 23 unanswered points, all of them sandwiched by Stanford's 27-point output.
Still, though it may be thrilling to live on the edge, Stanford's offensive brain trust is making it a priority to avoid the mid-game wall in 2013 and find consistent, contest-long scoring. The 2012 team finished 8-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less, so more steady offensive production will be necessary next season to avoid nail-biters. Playing with fire on a weekly basis equates to eventually getting burnt at least once, and such a singe would be potentially fatal to Stanford's national title hopes.
Winning the Chess Match
The onus, then, falls primarily on Hogan, a quarterback who must, in his second year at the helm, demonstrate greater effectiveness in the counter-adjustment stretch. David Shaw and his staff generally script the early possessions. In 2012, early calls were creative on both horizontal and vertical fronts. They featured passing plays out of running formations, and running plays out of passing formations. They featured trick plays. They featured Kelsey Young. They worked.
The sputtering started when the script ended and the chess match took over, when defenses adjusted to Stanford's varying plans and forced the redshirt freshman Hogan to adjust. The Cardinal's 2011 offensive point production reflects the wizardry Luck took with him: Stanford scored 173 more second-half points that season, a dramatic reversal of the fewer first-quarter points.
"Andrew was so good at the chess match," Sanford said. "And [Kevin's] going to get a lot better, now that he has that game experience under his belt. He'll have the benefit of being the starter for all of spring ball, for all of camp. He'll really improve in that aspect. It's about staying sharp, staying hungry, continuing to execute."
Of course, to attain results on the scoreboard, Hogan and his teammates' maturation will have to outweigh the losses of Zach Ertz, Stepfan Taylor, Levine Toilolo, Sam Schwartzstein, Drew Terrell, and Jamal-Rashad Patterson.
But the Cardinal hope is that a combination of Hogan improvement and the emergence of talents such as Kelsey Young can firmly outweigh those personnel losses.
Speaking of those up-and-comers, a detailed look at Stanford's emerging offensive players is coming next.
Defensive Development Report, Part 1: Interior Line (DT)
Defensive Development Report, Part 2: Exterior Line/LB
Defensive Development Report, Part 3: Secondary
David Lombardi is the Stanford Football Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidMLombardi.
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