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Fact Checking: Stanford's success rate in the Red Zone slipping

The Cardinal used to be one of the best in the country in the red zone, but that's no longer the case

Jeff Gross

Occasionally, like good journalists, we like to provide a fact-checking service to you, dear reader.

At Tuesday's press conference leading up to Big Game (Beat Cal), David Shaw complained about the popular perception of his playcalling -- namely, that it sucks -- and let loose with this assertion: "But to think the game goes down to red zone play calling when we've been close to the top of the nation for years. And been very good."

Hold on right there! In fact, red zone performance has not been "close to the top of the nation."

There are, of course, three outcomes in any given trip to the red zone: scoring a touchdown; scoring a field goal; not scoring at all. The NCAA, in its infinite lack of wisdom, categorizes red zone efficiency as "any score." That’s not totally useless, but it obscures that in two trips to the red zone you’d rather score a TD and turn the ball over than kick two field goals. So you’d prefer points per red zone possession. Sadly, that stat is not readily available anywhere.

So we’ll have to make do. Using the NCAA’s statistic -- scoring percentage -- we rank 41st. But touchdowns are more valuable and deserve emphasis. In that category, we rank 100th this year. Oddly, despite being better this year in most relevant offensive categories, Stanford’s actually worse in 2013 relative to 2012 in both red-zone categories, ranking 30th in total scoring percentage and 67th in touchdown percentage.

I don’t think there’s a clear explanation as to why this is the case, however. The typical scapegoats are awfully difficult to scape in this situation. Hogan? Perhaps, but then why were the red zone statistics better in 2012, when the offense featured Josh Nunes and a lesser Kevin Hogan?

Playcalling? My default is that playcalling is a silly thing to focus on -- feel free to direct your comments to Nick Saban on this subject -- but at any rate playcalling fails to address why there’s a unique force field of derp beginning at the opponent’s 20 yard line.

Personnel? This was actually one of the beginnings of my complaint; a while back Shaw declared walk-on wideout Rollins Stallworth a "red zone specialist." Now, nothing against Stallworth, but my feeling is that a dedicated red zone specialist is unnecessary when you have a guy that can do stuff like this. (Yes, I know, not the red zone. Sue me.)

Still, Shaw has not played Stallworth since a few ugly plays at the conclusion of the first half of the Oregon game and it seems churlish to pursue and not really a major factor here. It’s always possible that this is just random noise and everything will correct itself in due time. (Also, looking at Stanford offensive stats after road games is a sure way to give yourself atrial fibrillation.)

Still, it’s a problem and it’d be helpful if Shaw acknowledged it as such. Although, he, like everyone else, probably does think it’s a problem on some level.