Jaffe: Luck and Fleener lead #1s

Oct. 3, 2011, 1:40 a.m.

In this week’s Stat on the Back, I’ll take a look at Stanford’s 45-19 win over UCLA.

Number of the game: 1

What it means: It may be the loneliest number, but Stanford’s players didn’t seem to need anything more to make Catch of the Year 1A and Catch of the Year 1B.

How important was the number one? Consider this: on the first drive of the first quarter, the Stanford defense stopped UCLA on the one-yard line. Then, on Stanford’s first drive, the Cardinal used a one-handed catch by the No. 1 player in the country (and future No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft), Andrew Luck, and a one-handed catch by Coby Fleener (who is No. 1 in the nation in touchdowns by a tight end) to get the first points of the game.

Why it matters: Stanford was going to beat UCLA on Saturday, even if the Cardinal came out flat from its bye week. More importantly, though, Stanford needed some signature plays to get the fans in the game early and to bolster the team’s confidence.

It’s hard to do much better on those fronts than a goal-line stand on the first series of the game followed immediately by the aforementioned grabs by Luck and Fleener. The defense looked more pumped up than it had all year when it stuffed the Bruins four times from inside the five-yard line, and the crowd was louder than it had been all year when the referees overturned the call of incomplete on Luck’s catch.

And while no one on the team or coaching staff will admit to caring about it, Luck’s catch definitely helps his Heisman campaign. Don’t be surprised if you keep seeing his catch throughout the season, just like Cam Newton’s run through the LSU defense last year and Desmond Howard’s punt return and pose in 1991. Last year, it was all about Luck’s hits on Sean Cattouse and Shareece Wright. This year, it could be all about his one-handed catch.

Other notable numbers:

200: For the third straight week, Stanford broke the 200-yard mark both through the air and on the ground, led by efficient games from Luck (23-for-27 passing) and Stepfan Taylor (17 carries for 112 yards and two touchdowns). Of the 24 completions, 10 different players caught a pass. Head coach David Shaw preaches balance at least as much as Jim Harbaugh did, and he won’t be satisfied with a one-dimensional team, no matter how strong that dimension is. How’s Stanford doing balance-wise? The Cardinal ranks 31st in the nation in rushing and 32nd in passing. That’s a balanced offense. Stanford ranks seventh in scoring offense and sixth in scoring defense. That’s a balanced team.

141: Stanford allowed 141 rushing yards to UCLA. In the first three games of the season combined, the Cardinal gave up only 108 rushing yards. Was the run defense that bad? No. Was the run defense really that good for the first three weeks? No. Stanford held UCLA well below its season average on the ground, but there were still several gaping holes for Johnathan Franklin right up the middle. Most likely, Stanford won’t routinely give up over 140 rushing yards per game, but it also won’t hold many teams below 40. Most teams in the Pac-12 rely more heavily on the passing game, so the running numbers will probably end up halfway between these two numbers.

3: A big reason why Stanford had less success stopping the run was its inability to tackle Bruin rushers behind the line. The Cardinal had only three tackles for loss on Saturday after leading the nation with 31 in its first three games. Yet again, the UCLA offensive line was better than the other lines Stanford has faced, so it’s not surprising the numbers went down.

Still, every team in the country averages more than three tackles for loss, so the lack of big-play defense is somewhat worrisome. The defense is one of just three teams without an interception this year, so the big plays have to come from tackles behind the line. With the loss of Shayne Skov, Stanford will be without its best big-play defender for the rest of the year. The rest of the team needs to pick up the slack.

8: What makes three tackles for a loss not seem so bad? When your offense has allowed only eight tackles for a loss all season. The offensive line has shown some holes at times, but when you have the fewest negative plays of any team in the country, your line must be doing something right.

22: Stanford has gotten to the red zone 22 times this season. Every one of those times, the Cardinal has come away with points. That’s the best of any team in the country. When you don’t turn it over (one turnover all season, best in the country) and your kicker doesn’t miss (Jordan Williamson is 7-for-7), you become almost impossible to stop.

12: The winning streak continues.


Jacob Jaffe lives in a single, so he knows the true meaning of “one is the loneliest number.” Give him some love at [email protected] or publicly ask him out on Twitter @Jacob_Jaffe.

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