A Statistical Analysis of Stanford’s Opening Games

This post will look at the statistical differences between Stanford’s first game against San Jose State (who they struggled against) and their second game against Duke (who they put away handily).  Unfortunately, I did not have as much time as I normally do to write up this kind of post.  Because of the lack of time, you will notice the writing will be very straight forward in just presenting the statistics and there will be no graphics or graphs.  Sorry about that, but I figured it would be better to have this info out there rather than skipping the post because I couldn’t make it pretty.

Play Calling

Against SJSU, Stanford called 40 run plays (60%) against 27 pass plays (40%). I track sacks as passing plays, as they should be tracked in my opinion. When Stanford was leading by at least 8 points, they did call more passing plays (10 passes compared to 8 runs), probably to help get Nunes into rhythm when they had a lead. There was not a whole lot of variation in the play calling based on field position other than they ran the ball a lot more when it was goal to go (as expected with most teams). By quarter, Stanford was most run heavy in the 1st and 4th quarters and actually had decent balance in the 2nd and 3rd quarters.

Against Duke, the stats change. 24 running plays (41%) and 35 passing plays (59%). Stanford was balanced when the game was close (within 7 points), but quickly went to passing the ball once they were up 8+ points by about a 60-40 ratio in favor of passing. This stayed true even when they were up by 15+ points. In terms of field position, Stanford relied heavily on the pass (at least a 60-40 split) in all regions of the field other than when they were backed up to their own goalline (between their endzone and their 25 yard line). In this case they had a 78-22 ratio in favor of the run. By quarter, Stanford relied on the pass in the 1st and 3rd quarter and was fairly balanced in the 2nd and 4th quarters.

Explosive Plays vs Negative Plays:

Against SJSU, Stanford struggled to get explosive plays (plays of 15 or more yards). They only had one explosive play which was a run. However, they had 11 negative yardage plays: 10 runs and 1 pass.

Against Duke, Stanford had 8 explosive plays, all passes, compared to 6 negative plays (5 runs and 1 pass).

Third Down Conversions

One big difference between the SJSU and Duke games is 3rd down conversions. Against SJSU, Stanford was 2/13 on 3rd downs. This includes an abysmal 2/7 on 3rd and short (remember, Stanford was the king of 3rd and short last season), 0/2 on 3rd and medium, and 0/4 on 3rd and long. Stanford did not convert a single 3rd down greater than 3 yards. Their average gain on 3rd down was 0.38 yards compared to their average yards to go of 4.08. 1st down struggled for them as well as they averaged 4.59 yards gained on first down.

Against Duke, Stanford was 5/12 on 3rd downs. This includes 2/3 on 3rd and short, 2/6 on 3rd and medium, and 1/3 on 3rd and long. Stanford averaged 5.67 yards gained on 3rd down compared to 5.33 yards to go. They also averaged a much better 8.19 yards on 1st down (although I suspect this number to be skewed by a couple big plays as they had explosive plays of 18, 27, 38, and 43 yards. This accounts for half their explosive plays coming on 1st down).

Field Position

Against SJSU, Stanford’s average starting field position was their own 35 yard line. Against Duke, it was their own 47 yard line. I assume much of this was due to turnovers (2 against SJSU and 4 against Duke).  Because of this, Stanford had to march an average of 65.5 yards against San Jose State for a touchdown compared to 44.75 yards against Duke.  That is 20 extra yards they had to work for to score against San Jose State.

Non-scoring drives shows an interesting stat in that the average non-scoring drive against SJSU was 17.86 yards long while the average non-scoring drive against Duke was only 9.29 yards.  Not quite sure what happened there.

3 and Outs

Against SJSU, Stanford went 3 and out on 5 of their drives (42%).  Against Duke, it was only 3 of their drives (23%).


Not much profound in this quick look at Stanford’s first two games.  They dominated in the game in which their defense got more turnovers, had better field position, had more explosive plays and less negative plays, and converted on their 3rd downs.  Play calling had Stanford run heavy in one game and pass heavy in the other.  Most likely, they passed the ball more against Duke because they had the lead and wanted to give Nunes more work.  My guess is that they will run the ball more initially against USC and rely on Nunes only if they have to.  I expect that if USC plays solid defense, we can really put a wrench in Stanford’s offense.


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