Cardinal Numbers: "2008 Season Review"

For those of us obsessed with the collection, analysis, interpretation and presentation of data, The Bootleg's Senior Statistician Terry Johnson takes a close look at the 2008 season. Read on for clear signs of this season's progress as well as a few areas of continuing concern as the Cardinal starts preparing for a critical 2009 campaign.

A look at Stanford's 2008 season, by the numbers...


Stanford's offense improved significantly this year compared to last year. Scoring was up almost 7 points per game. Total offense was up almost 30 yards per game. The trend in most of the offensive statistical categories is positive:

First downs/game19.218.8
Total yards/game323352
Rushing yards/game111200
Rushing yards/game (excluding sacks)141212
Rushing yards/attempt3.04.9
Rushing yards/attempt (excl. sacks)4.25.4
Passing yards/game211152
Passing yards/attempt6.06.4
Pass efficiency107.0112.1
Sacks allowed/game4.01.8
Pass attempts per sack allowed8.813.7
Third down conversion rate29%38%

These stats show that Stanford's offense took a big step forward in 2008. Stanford's year over year improvement on offense actually was greater than it might appear from these raw numbers. For all Division I-A (Football Bowl Subdivision)teams combined, total offensive production declined this year. Probably because of the new clock rules, Division I-A teams on average are running about 4.2 fewer offensive plays per game this year than last year (71.9 plays/game last year, 67.7 plays/game so far this year). As a result of running fewer offensive plays, average offensive production for Division I-A teams has declined by about 21 yards/game (393 yards/game last year, 372 yards/game so far this year).

While the average offensive yardage for all teams is down 21 yards per game, Stanford's average offensive yardage is 29 yards/game higher. So, compared to the Division I-A average, Stanford's offensive production increased by 50 yards/game. In the NCAA total offense rankings, Stanford moved up from 107th out of 119 Division I-A teams last year to 69th currently. (This year's ranking is not final because games still are being played.)

Stanford's average number of offensive plays per game declined more than the Division I-A average. While the average number of offensive plays for all teams dropped by 4.2 plays per game, Stanford's average number of offensive plays dropped by about 7.7 plays per game (72.5 plays/game last year; 64.8 plays/game this year). I suspect that Stanford's greater than average decline in offensive plays was due to Stanford's emphasis on its running game this season. Last year, Stanford's run/pass mix was 51% / 49%; this year, the run/pass mix was 63% / 37%. More running plays and fewer incomplete passes meant that the clock kept running this year, effectively shortening games. Stanford's increase in offensive output from 323 yards/game to 352 yards/game seems like a bigger jump when we consider that Stanford achieved that increase while running almost 8 fewer plays per game.

Another yardstick for comparing this year's offensive performance to last year's is average yards per offensive play. The yards per play metric is not affected by the decline in the average number of plays per game. Last year Stanford's offense averaged 4.4 yards/play, which ranked 112th out of 119 teams in Division I-A. This year, Stanford improved to 5.4 yards/play, which currently ranks 59th, just above the median for all Division I-A teams. That's a very strong year over year improvement.

In recent years, Stanford's offense had a tendency to become less effective in the latter part of the season. This year, the Cardinal offense reversed that pattern, showing statistical improvement in the second half of the season:

 First 6
Last 6
Total Yards/Game317387
Rushing Yards/Game167232
Rushing Yards/Attempt4.65.1
Passing Yards/Game149155
Passing Yards/Attempt6.06.7

The improvement of the Stanford offense is especially welcome because of the chronic lack of offensive production from which Stanford has suffered in recent years. Since Buddy Teevens arrived in 2002, Stanford's offense has struggled. The offense bottomed out two years ago under Walt Harris. This season, Stanford's offensive production was its best in the last seven years:


As we all know, Stanford's running game was the key to the offensive resurgence. Stanford had one of its best seasons ever running the ball. The team's average of 4.9 yards per carry was the best average in school history (based on the figures in the media guide, which go back to 1951). The Cardinal as a team ran for 199.6 yards per game, which is the fourth highest per-game rushing yardage in school history. Stanford's 26 rushing TDs were the third highest in school history. And of course, Toby Gerhart broke the Stanford single-season rushing record with 1,136 rushing yards.

The improvement in Stanford's running game over the last two years has been dramatic. Just two years ago, Stanford averaged a mere 65 rushing yards per game, which was the second lowest per game average in school history. Stanford's average of 2.1 yards per carry two years ago was the absolute worst in school history (based on records since 1951). So, in just two years, Stanford's running game went from its worst ever yards per carry average to its best ever yards per carry average.

Yards per
Yards per

Since Jim Plunkett became Stanford's quarterback in 1968, Stanford's offense has been pass-oriented. Until this year, that is. Stanford's passing game this season was a smaller part of the Stanford offense than at any time in the last 40 years. Stanford attempted fewer passes than in any season since 1967, with just 23.9 pass attempts per game. Stanford's average of 152 passing yards per game likewise was its lowest since 1967. And for the first time since 1967, Stanford had more rushing yards than passing yards (200 rushing yards/game compared to 152 passing yards/game).

While Stanford passed the ball less often, the effectiveness of Stanford's passing game improved somewhat compared to last season. Stanford's pass efficiency rating went up from 107.0 last year to 112.1 this year. The team's completion percentage went up from 53.5% to 56.4%. The most significant passing statistic, in my view, is average yards per pass attempt. Stanford's yards per pass attempt went up from 6.0 last year to 6.4 this year. That's still not good – yards per pass attempt ideally should be at 7.0 or higher. But it's a modest step in the right direction.

The improvement in yards per attempt was offset to some extent by a significant interception problem. Stanford's interception percentage of 5.2% currently puts Stanford 112th out of 119 teams in Division I-A (the national leader is Florida at 1.1%; the median is 3.15%). That's Stanford's second highest team interception percentage in the last 20 years. Only the woeful 2002 team, which went 2-9 with quarterbacks Kyle Matter and Chris Lewis, had a higher interception percentage during that time (6.0%).

Individually, Tavita Pritchard improved in several categories – his yards per attempt went from 5.7 to 6.4, his completion percentage went from 50.0% to 57.9%, and his pass efficiency rating went from 97.5 to 114.6. However, his interception percentage increased from 4.6% to 5.1%. Pritchard's 5.1% interception percentage was the highest for Stanford's primary quarterback since 1987.

Stanford's pass protection improved this season. Stanford allowed only 1.8 sacks per game, down from 4.0 sacks per game last year. Of course, much of that reduction was attributable to the fact that Stanford passed the ball much less often this year. But even after taking into account Stanford's reduced number of pass attempts, the pass protection still improved. Stanford gave up one sack for every 13.7 pass attempts this season, compared to one sack for every 8.8 pass attempts a year ago.

The Stanford offense still has a long way to go. But it has returned to respectability.


Stanford's defense this year improved in some statistical categories, and was similar to last year's defense in most of the remaining categories:

Points allowed/game28.227.4
First downs allowed/game21.221.3
Total yards allowed/game436380
Yards allowed/play5.85.6
Rushing yards allowed/game169153
Rushing yards allowed/game (excl. sacks)193174
Rushing yards allowed/attempt4.24.3
Rushing yards allowed/attempt (excl. sacks)5.25.3
Passing yards allowed/game266227
Passing yards allowed/attempt7.67.1
Pass defense efficiency134.4134.3
Opponent pass attempts per sack11.311.3
Tackles for loss/game8.46.1
Third down conversion rate allowed36%43%

The biggest statistical improvement for this year's defense was in total yards allowed. Stanford's defense improved by 56 yards per game, allowing 380 yards/game this year compared to 436 yards/game last year. The average of 380 yards/game allowed was the lowest for a Stanford defense since the 2000 season.

Some of the defense's improvement in yards allowed per game was due to the fact that Stanford's opponents ran fewer offensive plays this year than last year. As I mentioned earlier, the number of plays per game for all teams declined due to the changes in the clock rules. Division I-A defenses on average faced about 4.5 fewer plays per game this year than last year (71.8 plays/game last year; 67.3 plays/game this year). As a result of facing fewer plays, Division I-A defenses on average allowed 26 fewer yards per game. Average yards allowed declined from 385 yards/game last year to 359 yards/game this year.

The total yards allowed by Stanford's defense declined by 56 yards per game this year, while the average reduction for Division I-A defenses was 26 yards per game. So, Stanford's year over year defensive improvement was greater than the average. Stanford's ranking in total defense improved from 98th out of 119 teams last year to 74th so far this year.

The decline in the number of plays faced by the Stanford defense was greater than the average decline for Division I-A defenses. While Division I-A defenses on average faced 4.5 fewer plays per game this year, Stanford's defense faced 7.1 fewer plays per game this year (74.8 plays/game last year; 67.7 plays/game this year). As I mentioned earlier, I suspect that Stanford's greater than average decline in the number of plays faced was caused in large part by Stanford's emphasis on its running game. My theory is that by keeping the clock running while it had the ball, Stanford to some extent shortened the game for both teams.

Stanford's defense also improved in yards allowed per play, which is a metric that is unaffected by the change in the number of plays per game. Last year, Stanford's defense allowed 5.8 yards per play. This year's defense allowed 5.6 yards per play. Stanford moved up marginally in the Division I-A rankings in yards allowed per play, from 90th last year to 82nd so far this year.

Stanford's defense gave up fewer big plays this year, improving in an area that was a problem for the Cardinal last year:

 30+ Yard Gains
30+ Yard
30+ Yard

Although there was overall improvement in the number of big plays allowed, it was a tale of two seasons for the Stanford defense with respect to big plays. In the first nine games of the season, Stanford's defense did an excellent job of preventing big plays, allowing only 8 plays of 30+ yards. All of those were pass plays; Stanford did not allow a single 30+ yard run in those first nine games. In the last three games of the season, however, Stanford's defense repeatedly was victimized by big plays. The Stanford defense allowed 11 plays of 30+ yards in those last three games alone (3 passes, 8 runs).

The majority of the high level defensive statistics were somewhat better in the second half of the season than in the first half, with the notable exception of rushing defense:

 First 6 GamesLast 6 Games
Points allowed/game27.727.2
First downs allowed/game24.018.5
Total yards allowed/game394365
Rushing yards allowed/game121185
Rushing yards allowed/attempt3.35.3
Passing yards allowed/game274180
Passing yards allowed/attempt7.26.9

But looking at the season in two six-game parts doesn't really tell the whole story of this Stanford defense. For the first nine games of the season, the defense was doing reasonably well, and was showing improvement as the season progressed. But in the last three games, the defense took a big step backwards as it faced some of the conference's best teams – Oregon, USC, and Cal. The Cardinal run defense, which had been stout through the first nine games, struggled in the last three games. A significant part of the problem with the run defense in those games was the tendency to give up the big running play. As I noted earlier, Stanford's defense didn't allow any 30+ yard runs in the first nine games of the season, but allowed 8 running plays of 30+ yards in the last three games.

 First 9 GamesLast 3 Games
Points allowed/game23.639.0
First downs allowed/game22.019.0
Total yards allowed/game366419
Rushing yards allowed/game107292
Rushing yards allowed/attempt3.17.2
Passing yards allowed/game260127
Passing yards allowed/attempt7.07.6

Stanford's pass defense struggled early in the year, but improved as the year went on. Of course, Stanford's last three opponents had so much success running the ball that they didn't need to pass much. So, the Cardinal's statistical improvement in the pass defense over the course of the season was due in part to the fact that the pass defense wasn't tested much in the last few weeks of the season. Still, the pass defense's improvement from 7.6 yards/attempt last year to 7.1 yards/attempt this year was a move in the right direction.

The Stanford defense finished the year with 34 sacks, compared to 37 sacks last year. The Cardinal's opponents had fewer pass attempts this year than last year, which accounts for Stanford's slight decline in sacks this year. Stanford's sack frequency this year was the same as it was last year – one sack for every 11.3 opponent pass attempts.

Stanford's defense did not match last year's exceptional figure of 8.4 tackles for loss per game, which ranked fifth in Division I-A. Still, this year's total of 6.1 tackles for loss per game is a pretty good figure (currently 44th in Division I-A).


This year's Stanford team did a below average job of creating turnovers. Stanford had 21 takeaways this season – 7 interceptions and 14 fumble recoveries. This season's seven interceptions were tied for the lowest number of interceptions by a Stanford team in the last 14 seasons (which is as far back as my turnover records go). The Stanford defense's interception percentage of 1.82% currently ranks 111th in Division I-A. Stanford recovered an above-average number of fumbles, but the fumble recoveries did not fully compensate for the lack of interceptions. Stanford's takeaway rate of 1.75 takeaways per game currently is tied for 66th in Division I-A.

Stanford turned the ball over 25 times – 15 interceptions and 10 fumbles. As I mentioned earlier, the 15 interceptions were a relatively high number, given the fact that Stanford didn't pass the ball much. The 10 lost fumbles were slightly better than average. Overall, Stanford's turnover rate of 2.08 turnovers per game currently is tied for 80th in Division I-A.

Stanford's turnover margin was -4 for the season. There's a pretty strong relationship between turnover margin and winning. In all Stanford games over the last 14 seasons, the team that had a positive turnover margin in a given game won the game about 76% of the time. That held true again this season – the team with the positive turnover margin won seven times in nine games (turnovers were even in the other three games).

Special Teams

Stanford's punting team did well this year. David Green, in his first season as Stanford's punter, had a solid year – an average of 39.9 yards/punt, no blocks, 17 punts inside the 20, and only 2 touchbacks. Zach Nolan, who took over the long snapping, did a fine job. Stanford's punt coverage team was outstanding. On 53 Stanford punts this season, the Cardinal's opponents had a combined total only 77 punt return yards. Opponents averaged just 6.4 punt return yards per game. As a result, Stanford is leading the Pac 10 and is 13th in the nation in net punting with a net of 37.7 yards/punt. Both the coverage team and the punter deserve credit.

Stanford's punt return team was decent. As a team, Stanford averaged 10.6 yards per punt return, which currently is sixth in the Pac 10 and 37th in Division I-A. Stanford blocked two punts, returning one of them for a touchdown. Individually, Doug Baldwin averaged 8.6 yards per punt return. Baldwin wasn't able to take one all the way back, but he gave us a punt return threat that we didn't have for the last couple of years. (Stanford's team average is higher than Baldwin's individual average because the blocked punt that went for a touchdown against TCU went down in the stats as a 50 yard punt return.)

Stanford's kickoffs this year were relatively short, carrying to the nine-yard line on average, with just two touchbacks. Stanford to some extent was able to compensate for short kickoffs through good kickoff coverage, with the glaring exception of the USC game, in which Stanford's kickoff coverage was horrible. For the season, Stanford's opponents averaged 21.0 yards per kickoff return. (Excluding the USC game, the opponents' average would have been 18.3 yards/return.)

Stanford's kickoff returns were pretty good. Stanford was not able to break a long return, but consistently got good returns. As a team, Stanford averaged 22.4 yards per kickoff return, which currently is fourth in the Pac 10 and 34th in Division I-A. Individually, Stanford's rotating group of kickoff returners had remarkably similar average yards per return – Delano Howell 25.8, Anthony Kimble 23.4, Jeremy Stewart 23.4, and Chris Owusu 23.3.

Stanford's field goal kicking generally was good this year. Aaron Zagory missed only 3 field goal attempts, connecting on 14 of 17 (82.4%), with a long of 52 yards. That was a marked improvement over last year, when Stanford's kicker missed 12 field goals (15 of 27, 55.6%). And the field goal team deserves recognition for the fake field goal that went for a touchdown against Oregon. That was a thing of beauty.

Random Numbers

Stanford's five-game winning streak on its home field, starting with the last home game of 2007 and including the first four home games of 2008, was its longest home winning streak since 1996-1997, when Stanford also won five straight home games. The last home winning streak that was longer than five games was a seven-game home winning streak in 1991-1992 (the last four home games of 1991 and the first three home games of 1992)...

Anthony Kimble gained a career-high 717 rushing yards and averaged 6.0 yards/carry. He currently is eighth in the conference in rushing yards per game. Kimble's 717 yards would have been the most rushing yards for any Stanford player in the last seven seasons, if not for Toby Gerhart's record-breaking season...

Anthony Kimble ended up eighth in Stanford history in career rushing yards with 1,940 yards. Kimble is tied for sixth in school history in career rushing touchdowns with 18 TDs...

Toby Gerhart gained 1,250 all purpose yards and Anthony Kimble gained 1,024 all purpose yards this season. They became the first Stanford players with more than 1,000 all purpose yards in a season since 2001, when both Brian Allen (1,361) and Luke Powell (1,093) did it...

Toby Gerhart had eight games with 100 rushing yards, and Anthony Kimble had three games with 100 rushing yards. Stanford had at least one 100 yard rusher in ten of its twelve games this year (all games except Arizona State and TCU). In the previous six seasons combined (2002-2007), there were just eight 100 yard rushing games by Stanford players...

Toby Gerhart ranks 13th in Stanford history in career rushing yards with 1,651 yards. He needs just 117 yards to move into Stanford's top 10 in career rushing yards. With a good season next year, Gerhart could move into Stanford's top three in career rushing yards. Gerhart needs 872 yards to catch Anthony Bookman, who is #3 on the list (2,523 yards), and needs 1,289 yards to catch Brad Muster, who is #2 (2,940 yards). Darrin Nelson's school record of 4,033 rushing yards is out of reach for next year – but Gerhart does have two years of eligibility remaining...

With four interceptions this season, Bo McNally now has eight career interceptions. He needs one more interception to move into the all time top 10 in the Stanford record book...

Redshirt freshman Tom Keiser led the team with six sacks. He was the first freshman to lead the team in sacks since 1986, when redshirt freshman Lester Archambeau was the sack leader with eight...

Alex Loukas gained 186 rushing yards, which was the most rushing yards in a season by a Stanford quarterback since Scott Frost ran for 193 yards in 1994...

Eight true freshmen played for Stanford this year – Johnson Bademosi, Alex Debniak, Travis Golia, Delano Howell, Chris Owusu, Warren Reuland, Michael Thomas, and Griff Whalen. That was the most true freshmen to play for Stanford in one season since 1994, when nine true freshmen played – Jeff Allen, Anthony Bookman, Chris Draft, Damon Dunn, Kadar Hamilton, Carl Hansen, Jon Haskins, Corey Hill, and Kailee Wong...

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