Jaffe: Stat on the Back

Sept. 20, 2011, 4:04 a.m.

Every week this fall, I’m going to dissect Stanford football from a numerical perspective here at Stat on the Back.

Number of the game:11

What it means: Stanford has now won 11 consecutive games, good for the longest active winning streak in the country. Perhaps more importantly, though, 11 is the uniform number of both Levine Toilolo and Shayne Skov. Toilolo broke out with 102 receiving yards and a touchdown, but Skov’s game had an even bigger impact on the Cardinal going forward. Skov left the game with a knee injury and will miss the rest of the season.

Why it matters: If you have to ask why winning 11 straight games matters, you don’t watch sports very often. But just for some perspective, the longest winning streak in school history is 13 games, set in both 1904-05 and 1937-39, and the longest unbeaten streak is 15 games, set in 1925-27. Stanford’s next four games–vs. UCLA, vs. Colorado, at Washington State and vs. Washington–set up nicely for a significant challenge to those records.

Skov is one of the team’s most important players. He was the team’s top tackler in the first two games and is a big-play threat every down, as seen by his three Orange Bowl sacks. But if you really want to see how much he means to the team, just look at the way the other players reacted when he went down. Chase Thomas, the other half of the Pac-12’s best linebacking duo, wrote Skov’s “11” on his arm in tribute to his injured teammate. His teammates afterward emphasized how big a loss he will be to the team, and it’s clear that the Cardinal will be without one of its main leaders for the duration of this injury. Many people have said that Stanford is no longer a national championship caliber team without Skov, and that speaks to his importance. With Skov out for the year, it will be up to Jarek Lancaster, AJ Tarpley and the highly touted James Vaughters, who have played a total of one year of college football, to pick up the slack.

On the bright side, Toilolo broke out of a mini funk with a very strong performance. Last year, Toilolo beat out Konrad Reuland, Coby Fleener and Zach Ertz for the starting job, and then promptly got hurt on the second play of the season. This year, expectations were justifiably high for the physically freakish athlete. A 6-foot-8 guy that can move is an asset on any team, let alone one with a tight-end-loving quarterback like Andrew Luck. However, the first two games brought a penalty, a couple drops and some miscommunication without a single catch for Toilolo. After Fleener went down with an apparent concussion, Toilolo responded. Not only did he finally make a catch, he made impact plays.

Toilolo’s four catches: 1) got Stanford its first first-down, 2) got Stanford into the red zone for the first time, 3) converted a crucial third-down in a one-score game and was the longest pass play all day and 4) pushed the lead to three scores with his first career touchdown grab and also gave him over 100 yards receiving. It doesn’t get much better than that. Apart from the importance in this game, Toilolo’s 102-yard day gave the Cardinal another proven weapon on offense and showed the team that it shouldn’t miss a beat if Fleener needs time to get back to being 100 percent.

Other notable numbers:

7: The number of second-half points allowed by Stanford through three games after another post-halftime shutout. Not surprisingly, this mark is top in the country. What is surprising is that a road team missing its best defensive player can shut out an offense as potent as Arizona’s, especially on a day when Foles started so hot.

108: The number of rushing yards Stanford has allowed all season, equating to 36 rushing yards allowed per game. That’s second in the country, and the figure could be even lower. On the first series of the second half, Keola Antolin gashed the Stanford D for 45 rushing yards on four carries, but the drive ended in a missed field goal. For the rest of the game, Arizona managed just six yards on 19 carries. In all, only 11 of the Wildcats’ 23 carries gained yardage.

20: Luck has thrown 20 touchdowns to tight ends since the beginning of last year. That’s twice as many as anyone else in the country. In case you haven’t heard 10,000 times by now, Stanford has really, really, ridiculously good tight ends.

3: After leading the nation in third-down conversion percentage last year, Stanford was just 7-for-16 on third downs against Arizona. That’s three straight games where Stanford failed to convert half its third downs, dropping the Cardinal to 61st in the nation with a 42.1 conversion percentage. Last year, Stanford did not have a game all season with a conversion rate that low, and only twice did the Cardinal fail to get to 50 percent.

567: Despite having a fairly unflashy performance, Stanford still racked up 567 total yards. That’s more than the Cardinal had in any game last year.

37: While Stanford had a huge day yardage-wise, the team scored a relatively pedestrian 37 points. Pedestrian for Stanford, that is. During the Cardinal’s 11-game winning streak, the 37 points are good for the second-fewest points Stanford has scored.

13: Jordan Williamson scored 13 points. Arizona scored 10. When your kicker outscores the other team, things are generally going well.

Stanford is off this week, but Stat on the Back doesn’t take a bye. I’ll be back next week to look at the season so far and what lies ahead.

Like many sports journalists, Jacob Jaffe is really just a stats nerd who thinks he can write. Email him for advice on anything except fantasy sports at jwjaffe”at”stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter at Jacob_Jaffe.

 

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