Clardy's Corner: Numbers Talk

Here at The Bootleg, Troy Clardy is as much a staple of our diet as Deep Fried Bacon Cheddar Mashed Potatoes On A Stick. This week, Troy covers everything from Stanford and the Pac-10's disappointing weekend to DeSean Jackson showing off his Cal pedigree on Monday Night Football to, yup, the eating habits of Oklahomans. Read on, if your heart can handle it...

I walked into the office early Saturday afternoon pumped up and ready for an afternoon of Stanford Football. I headed to my desk, flipped on the TV, found the Stanford-TCU game, and settled in for what I hoped would be a good game.

Three hours later, I was horribly, horribly depressed. Not as depressed as Bruin Fan must have been (or Sun Devil Fan... or Wildcat Fan... or Weenie), but pretty depressed nonetheless.

Cardinalmaniacs worldwide likely felt the same way, especially the ones who either paid good money to see that game in person or woke up early on the West Coast to watch it.

I'm not ready to throw in the towel on the season. Far from it. But I certainly didn't like what I saw. Normally, I'd say that 31-14 final score doesn't indicate how close that game was, but the more I think about it, the more accurately that score represents how that game really unfolded, and which team really deserved to win.

As many of you know, I'm a firm believer that, in football, statistics lie. The numbers that are valued the most in football by average and casual fans often have little bearing on whether a team actually wins the ballgame or not. This is the big reason why I think fantasy sports have ruined football, but that's another rant for another time.

But if you insist on using the stat sheet as the ultimate judge of what's good and what's bad in football, there are only two sets of numbers that really tell you everything you need to know.

The most important stat in football, unquestionably, is the turnover margin. It's hard to win when you keep handing the ball to the other team. It's hard to lose when you take care of the football. I'd be willing to bet that the team with the better turnover margin wins the game at least 70 percent of the time.

The other important set of numbers to look at is third-down conversions. You can always tell when a team is executing better, and sometimes when they just want it more, if their offense is moving the chains when they need to on third down, and when their defense is getting off the field after third down.

TCU led the turnover margin, 3-0. They converted nine third-down chances; Stanford moved the chains only twice. And, for good measure, TCU went two-for-two on fourth down as well.

Not only did TCU win the turnover and third-down battles, they won the battle on first-down, too. TCU QB Andy Dalton's quick passes often put the Horned Frogs in manageable second-and-two, second-and-three situations. Their success on first down often put them in position to succeed on third down.

Meanwhile, Stanford not only failed consistently on first down, they saved their biggest failures for the critical downs. Tavita Pritchard's gut-punching pick after Doug Baldwin's close call came on a third down. And the game changed for good in the fourth quarter after Stanford's offensive line got zero push and Toby Gerhart gained zero yards on fourth-and-one.

Speaking of Toby Gerhart, as good as he as looked at times, it seems as if right now, he is the only playmaker the coaches feel comfortable with. I think TCU sensed this early, as they stacked the box, loaded up against the run, and dared the Cardinal to throw.

Only one time all day did the Cardinal offense seem content to do more than hand the ball off to Gerhart twice, then complete a pass short of the marker on third down. That came in the second quarter, on a series of beautifully executed plays, capped by Doug Baldwin's touchdown on the reverse (I said this last year, but to me, Baldwin looks like a poor man's Troy Walters).

When Stanford took control of the game and attacked, they played better. That went for offense, defense, and special teams. And I don't think it's that much of a coincidence.

Is Andrew Luck the answer? I don't know. That's a question the coaches have to solve. If he truly gives Stanford its best chance of winning right now, and the coaches truly feel that way, then I think it's a no-brainer.

But I don't think there's much question about this: with the always eager San Jose State Spartans coming to town, Stanford cannot afford to let them dictate the tempo, as they did against TCU. The Cardinal must take control of this game on Saturday, otherwise they risk potentially losing control of the 2008 season before September is out.

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RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS

Trust me, after a revoltingly depressing weekend like we just saw in the Pac-10, you don't want my random Pac-10 thoughts. Besides, I'm not allowed to use cuss words in these Corners, so that would wipe out about 99 percent of my material anyways! That may have been the most depressing 13-hour period of football I've ever seen…

Not a Pac-10 thought, but…DeSean Jackson. Bone. Headed. Play. Just like Jay Cutler, he's very, very lucky the whistle blew when it did…

Not a Pac-10 thought, but…our Quote of the Week comes from Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis, after his team's win over Michigan last week: "We wanted to make a statement that we're not some garbage team that can be crapped on every week." Easy there, Charlie, easy…

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CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX

Always good to hear from the Heartland… Duane from Nebraska writes: "I've always liked your enthusiasm for the sport of football and your insights on Big XII country too (being a Big XII country guy myself).  I love reading your takes….I'm not asking you to say something silly like the Pac-10 is better than the SEC.  You can't make that case.  All I am saying is that I am sick and tired of columnists/media not being able to say SEC without saying "best conference". … Not asking for Pac-10 to be called the 'best', just asking the media (you) to consider that some other conferences might just be pretty good, and stop feeling the need to continuously deem one conference the best until Jan 1-8 comes around.  Let's play the games."

Excellent stuff, Duane! Unfortunately, last week, they played the games. And the Pac-10 stunk. 0-4 against the Mountain West? Are you kidding me? Let me move on before I get all depressed again…

Funny you mention Big XII country, Duane, because as I write this, I'm at the Oklahoma City airport waiting to head back to Hartford. It's always great to visit Big XII country, and I always seem to see something I didn't expect to see. Three unexpected things topped the list this trip:

• Texas was well-represented at the Oklahoma State Fair. A little too well-represented. The first thing we saw when we walked in was a huge "Texas On Tour" trailer. And a few of the "local" exhibitors we chatted with had actually come in from Texas. Texas! Whose state fair was this anyway?
• Also at the State Fair, I stopped dead in my tracks when I came across a stand selling—brace yourself for it—Deep Fried Bacon Cheddar Mashed Potatoes On A Stick. I'm serious. Almost tried it too… but went with an Indian Taco instead. My heart thanked me for it.
• Driving down the Northwest Expressway in Oklahoma City, a car ahead of us had "San Jose State Alumni" license plate frames. Smack  in the heart of Soonerland (some of my Dad's neighbors have the OU logo painted into their curbs along with their house numbers), someone was representing Sannizay. Spartan Nation… who knew?

Agree with this Corner? Disagree? Got something else on your mind? Have you actually tried Deep Fried Bacon Cheddar Mashed Potatoes On A Stick (and lived to tell the tale)? Drop me a line at my Scout.com inbox (username: troyc ) or e-mail me at troyc@thebootleg.com. The best e-mails will be answered in next week's Clardy's Corner Inbox!

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PAC-10 PICKS

Arizona @ UCLA. The Wildcats were, as it turned out, every bit the frauds we expected them to be. But I still think they're better than UCLA right now. A much better team, to be honest with you. That's why I like Arizona by 13.

This year: 2-0 (straight up and ATS).
Last year: 26-10 (straight-up), 20-15-1 (ATS).

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Troy Clardy hosts the Stanford Daily Update, airing every weekday at 7:30p on Cardinal Sports Network flagship radio station KTRB (860 AM) in San Francisco. Clardy's Corner appears Wednesdays on TheBootleg.com. You can also check him out online at TroyClardy.com.


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