Last week, I asked how much the Stanford defense had improved under new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. As Matt Barkley repeatedly marched the Trojans down the field on Saturday, some fans may have questioned whether it had improved at all. The defense's shortcomings have been masked by an offense that has scored with such frequency that even the freshman students have mastered the correct time to jump during the LSJUMB's rendition of "All Right Now." The royalties from this season alone could finance a Free reunion tour.
Stanford ranks fifth in the nation in scoring offense (43.3 points per game) at the season's midway point. The Cardinal's 260 points to date puts it on pace to obliterate the current Stanford record for points in a season of 461, which was set last year. With Toby Gerhart leading the way, Stanford also set school records for touchdowns (59) and rushing touchdowns (39) in 2009. What could this year's team possibly do for an encore?
Any doubts about whether Andrew Luck could keep the offense clicking without No. 7 in the backfield have been erased. The redshirt sophomore has already surpassed his passing TD total from last season, and with 16 through 6 games, he's on pace to break the school's single season record of 27. That mark is currently shared by John Elway (1980) and Steve Stenstrom (1993). While Stanford's rushing production has been identical to last year's squad through 6 games--a testament to the Cardinal's dominant offensive line and the emergence of Stepfan Taylor--Luck is averaging nearly 70 yards more passing per game.
Seventeen different players have combined to score Stanford's 33 touchdowns. To put that number in perspective, the Cardinal didn't score 33 touchdowns in any full season from 2002-2007. The total is also one fewer than the number of touchdowns Stanford scored in the 2003 and 2006 seasons combined. Stanford has scored on 34 of 37 trips inside the red zone. Nate Whitaker, who is 10-for-10 on field goals, could break the single-season records for both field goals made and field goal percentage.
The obvious question: Can this continue? Let's take a game-by-game look at Stanford's point totals this season and the quality of the defenses the Cardinal will face in the second half.
*FCS Opponent, TOT D = Total Defense Rank, PPGA = Points Per Game Against
The average PPGA of the Cardinal's first 6 opponents? 26.2. The average PPGA of the Cardinal's final 6 opponents? 26.1.
While Stanford will face some stingy defenses in the coming weeks, Arizona and Cal's lofty defensive rankings are perhaps somewhat inflated by early-season games against teams with anemic offenses. Cal held UC Davis, Colorado, and UCLA to a combined 17 points, and Arizona to 10, but the Bears were blitzed 52-31 by Nevada. (That score and story should look familiar.) The Wildcats bottled up Toledo, The Citadel, and Cal, but they looked less than dominant in last Saturday's 29-27 loss to Oregon State.
(To the point that none of these numbers are perfect indicators of the quality of Stanford's remaining opponents' defenses, all 5 of Oregon State's opponents to date are currently ranked in the top 30 in Total Offense. The Beavers' defense likely isn't as bad as its ranking suggests. Wake Forest's defense, which allowed 54 points to Duke, probably is.)