Stanford looking for fast start on the road

The road has been kind -- and cruel -- to the Stanford Cardinal this season. Kind in the outcome, cruel in the process. Kind in the second half. Cruel in the first. Kind in totaling wins. Cruel in totaling injuries.

Most teams don't play as well away from their sanctuaries. And the No. 4 Cardinal have been no exception -- specifically on offense, where they seem more jet-lagged than jet-powered in the first 30 minutes of games away from The Farm.

"I like the second half of all of our road games," said head coach David Shaw. "That’s an emphasis this week, is to start faster. To play better at the beginning. Look at Duke and Washington State, those two in particular. We came out and played OK, but the defense kept us in those games and the offense picked up in the second half."

Naturally, some numbers will be swayed by the overtime game and quality of competition, but there are still some distinct patterns that emerge.

  • Stanford rushes for an average of 238.25 yards at home versus 193 on the road.

  • Stanford passes for 258.25 at home compared with 322.5 on the road (an indication that for whatever reason, the base running attack hasn't been as effective).

  • Stanford's defense holds opponents to 100 rushing yards at home and 69.25 on the road. USC was the only team to gain more than 100 yards on the ground against the Cardinal on the road, and the home number reflects the competition/philosophy of UCLA and Washington.

  • Stanford's pass defense yields 218.5 yards at home and 270 on the road.

  • Total yards: 318.5 at home versus 339.25 on the road.

  • And the most important figure: Stanford is allowing 12.5 points per game at home and 21.5 on the road.

Throw out the USC game and that average drops. But that's not how numbers work. You can't just throw out a game. It goes on your permanent record.

"I don't' think we come out with less attention to detail," said running back Jeremy Stewart. "But when you play at home, you are a lot more comfortable with the atmosphere and you have a better feel for what's going to happen."

The numbers justify Shaw's notion that the defense is stepping up in the first half of road games. Opponents average just 17 rushing yards in the first half (compared to 46 at home), 131 passing yards on the road (versus 165 at home) and 145 total yards on the road (versus 211.25 at home).

"I don't know if it's anything specific," said linebacker A.J. Tarpley. "We still have a lot of young guys. With each game it's a little different. Going to a place like the Coliseum, a place like that, where not a lot of us have played in front of 95,000 people, it's a tough place to play. There is a little added pressure. Everybody prefers that at-home feeling. I don't know if there is one thing you can point out. Maybe it's just the tough places we've played this year."

And it might be tougher this week in Corvallis, Ore., where cold weather and rain is expected. That's likely going to put an extra emphasis on the running game, especially early, when the Cardinal average just 90 rushing yards in the first half on the road compared to 124.5 in the first half at home.

"It's always a little tougher playing away from home," said fullback Ryan Hewitt. "But I like to think we have the same mindset going into home or away games."

And mindset is going to play an important role in this game. The Cardinal are coming off an emotionally taxing game -- a triple-overtime victory on the road against USC. A fast start isn't completely necessary, since the Cardinal have proved to be an efficient second-half team. But for the final regular-season road game of the year, it would be nice to see.

"I've been mostly pleased with how we've traveled on the road," Shaw said. "It took us a half to start playing our style of football against Washington State. That's what we have to caution against (this week)."