Inside the numbers: Stanford

| September 8, 2016 | 0 Comments


By Cole Manbeck

Let’s begin this blog with a question: If you knew the following statistics from Kansas State’s season-opener at No. 8 Stanford Friday night, and didn’t look at the final score, who would you have thought came out victorious?

  • Stanford only had 49 offensive plays, the fewest a Cardinal team has had since Nov. 18, 2006. K-State ran 73 plays.
  • Stanford led the country in time of possession in 2015. On Friday, K-State won the time-of-possession battle.
  • K-State held Stanford to 13 first downs, the fewest for the Cardinal in more than two seasons.
  • The Cardinal had 272 yards of offense. In their last 47 games dating back to 2012, Stanford had only been held to 272 yards or less twice prior to Friday night.
  • The Wildcats outgained Stanford in total yards by 63. K-State hadn’t lost a game when outgaining its opponent since 2013.
  • K-State held Stanford to 3.5 yards per rush. Only two teams held Stanford to less yards per carry in 2015. The Cardinal averaged 4 yards or more per carry in their last 12 games last season.
  • The Wildcats held Stanford to 5.6 yards per offensive play. Only two teams accomplished that feat or did better against the Cardinal in 2015.
  • Lastly, the K-State defense held Stanford to 24 points (excluding a safety). Stanford had scored 30 points or more in 13 consecutive games, the longest streak in the FBS.

K-State must have pulled the upset, right? You know the answer, and unfortunately, there are plenty of reasons as to why the Wildcats didn’t come out on top.

  • K-State had four drives that reached the Stanford 35-yard line or closer. Those four offensive series resulted in a combined 6 points.
  • The Wildcats were beaten in special teams, something that rarely happens. K-State’s average starting field position in the game was its own 23-yard line. Stanford’s average drive started at its own 37. K-State had second-half drives that began at its own 1, 2, 7 and 15-yard line. Stanford began its second-half drives on its own 47 on average, which makes the second-half effort by the K-State defense all the more impressive.
  • The Wildcats completed just 46 percent of their passes, including two interceptions. The Wildcats’ passer rating of 94.2 was one of the worst in college football’s opening weekend. We know the struggles of the 2015 passing game, and that team’s passing rating was 14 points better at 108 for the season.
  • K-State once again got off to another slow start. If you exclude the KU game last season, the Wildcats’ average halftime deficit is 17 points (25-8 to be exact) over their last eight games. The K-State offense is not built on being able to come back from three-score deficits. The Wildcats must stop digging themselves such a big hole to climb out of.
  • The Wildcats weren’t able to get off the field on third down early in the game. K-State was great on first-and-second down, but failed to capitalize on third downs early on. A key drive occurred late in the first quarter and extended into the second. K-State had Stanford backed up at its own 2-yard line to start the series. The Cardinal converted a third-and-5 from their own 7. If K-State had gotten a stop there, it could have flipped field position. Unfortunately, Stanford would convert another third-and-5, and later in the drive a third-and-14, eventually leading to a 40-yard touchdown pass to Michael Rector. The 10-play, 98-yard drive is a tough one to swallow.

I want to get away from the bullets on the offensive line. K-State allowed eight sacks Friday night, which was more than any FBS team in the country this past weekend. The eight sacks were the most by a Stanford team since 2012. It’s a concerning trend, as the offensive line ranked 117th out of 127 FBS teams last season in sack percentage allowed, giving up a sack on more than 9 percent of the time K-State quarterbacks dropped back to pass.

However, this is a mixed bag. Quarterback Jesse Ertz held onto the ball too long on several occasions, resulting in many of those sacks. On the other hand, Ertz also bailed out the line a few times, eluding pressure and gaining positive yards on scrambles.

Pro Football Focus did a terrific breakdown of K-State’s game in Palo Alto, Calif. From the article:

“The pass-rushing statistics for the Stanford front-seven look ludicrous from Friday night’s win. They combined for eight sacks, four hits and 19 hurries. Combing through the pass-rushing grades though, nobody stands out. The reason? Stanford stunted the K-State offensive line to death. They were able to get free rusher after free rusher solely because the inexperienced Wildcat offensive line had no sort of communication whatsoever against stunts. Seven of their eight sacks came in either pursuit or of the cleanup variety with the safety being the lone exception.

“(Ertz) simply didn’t want to throw the ball for much of the game. He was charged with five sacks and had an average time before throwing of 3.56 seconds – a number that would have led the NCAA by 0.47 seconds a year ago.”

As the article illustrates, Stanford ran several twists against the K-State offense, taking advantage of the Wildcats’ inexperience upfront. Ertz didn’t have many opportunities early in the game to settle in, set his feet in the pocket and get into a rhythm, and that’s significant considering he hadn’t thrown a pass in a game since his senior year of high school nearly four years ago.

The offensive line wasn’t helped by the offense getting into too many predictable passing situations. K-State had 18 third-down plays in the game. On 13 of them, the Wildcats needed 5 yards or more, including needing 8 or more yards on 10 of them. This enabled Stanford to pin its ears back and get after the quarterback.

Playing into the third-down numbers were K-State’s struggles on first down. The Wildcats’ offensive system is predicated on being successful on first down and getting into manageable second and third-down situations.

  • K-State was 0-for-6 passing on first down in its first 11 offensive possessions Friday.
  • The Wildcats gained a combined total of 14 yards on their first six first-down plays of the game.
  • K-State had 29 first-down plays in the game. The Wildcats gained 71 yards total on their first 26 first-down snaps, an average of 2.4 yards a play on first down. That’s not going to get it done.

K-State didn’t gain a single yard on quarterback-designed run plays. All of the rushing yards by Ertz occurred on scrambles. As a matter of fact, K-State hardly ran any quarterback-designed run plays. That’s probably not a bad idea in Ertz’s first game back from a knee injury. But we know how important the quarterback-run game is to the K-State offense. If the Wildcats aren’t comfortable running Ertz, especially early in the season, then I would like to see them get Alex Delton into the game for a few snaps to give defenses a different look.

Final Analysis

The defense was obviously the highlight of the game. K-State flew around to the football. The defensive line looked stout, the linebackers played great, and Dante Barnett looks like he hasn’t missed a beat coming back from last season’s injury. K-State allowed 5.2 yards per rush over its last nine games last season. To limit Stanford, a power running team that replaces its offensive linemen like a factory and has the Heisman frontrunner in its backfield, should not go unnoticed.

The only concern is the pass defense. The Wildcats were one of the worst in the country at defending the pass in 2015, and on Friday, they allowed a first-year starting quarterback to complete 79 percent of his passes. To put that in perspective, K-State didn’t allow a quarterback to complete 79 percent of his passes  in a game all of last season.

I do think the pass defense will be much improved by Big 12 play. But Stanford plays the type of football that plays into K-State’s hands as its front seven is its strength. So we won’t truly know how this defense transitions to the spread offenses of the Big 12, but I remain encouraged with what we saw Friday from the defense.

The K-State offense obviously had its share of struggles. However, I’m inclined to believe that by Big 12 play, the unit will be much improved. The receiver position has certainly been upgraded. Byron Pringle didn’t play as well as I’m sure he would have liked to, but it was his first game and I expect him to be much more comfortable by the time K-State goes to West Virginia to kick off Big 12 play.

Ertz showed what he can do late in the game Friday, dropping in some terrific throws to Dominique Heath, Isaiah Zuber and Corey Sutton in the fourth quarter. The talent is there, it’s just a matter of becoming more consistent and knocking the rust off.

Ertz now has an opportunity to look at film of him actually playing in a game and fix the mistakes. The same goes for the young offensive line. K-State now has two games they should win before Big 12 play begins. Look for Ertz and this offense to take significant strides over the coming weeks and be a much improved unit when they travel to Morgantown, W.V.



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