What's wrong with the Stanford offense?

Stanford scored a season-low two offensive touchdowns in its 27-21 loss to Utah. It was the second straight week that the Cardinal set a new season low for offensive touchdowns. They have had nine three-and-out drives in their last two games, matching their total from their 4-0 start.

With the Cardinal taking on No. 9 UCLA, we take a look at what is wrong with their offense.

Stanford’s offense posted minus-0.9 expected points toward its scoring margin in its loss at Utah and minus-2.0 in its 31-28 win against Washington the previous week. (Expected points added are defined as the difference between the number of points a team scores in comparison to the points an average offense is expected to score given the same circumstances, such as number of drives, down and distance, field position, etc.) With a minus-2.9 EPA in those two games combined, it marks the first time the Cardinal have had a negative EPA in back-to-back games since David Shaw became the head coach in 2011.

This is the same Stanford offense that averaged 41 points and had a plus-12.5 EPA in its 4-0 start.

Where is Stanford struggling on offense?

Running game

One difference has been the running game. In their first four games, the Cardinal averaged 218 rushing yards and 5.3 yards per carry. They gained 41 percent of their rush yards after contact.

Stanford rushing this season

In the last two games, Stanford has averaged 161 rushing yards and 4.6 yards per carry. The Cardinal gained 27 percent of those rushing yards after contact, the second-lowest percentage by a Pac-12 team in the last two weeks, behind Oregon State (25 percent). They had season lows in rushing yards, yards after contact and runs of 10 yards or more in the loss at Utah.

On average, the Cardinal faced 7.5 defenders in the box on their running plays in the last two games. There were 32 runs on which the defense had eight or more defenders in the box. That is more such plays than eight Pac-12 teams have faced all season.

Secondary target

Kevin Hogan by target last 2 games

Ty Montgomery leads Stanford in receptions (31), receiving yards (514) and touchdowns receptions (5) this season. In the last two games, he has accounted for 54 percent of Stanford’s receiving yards but only 36 percent of its targets. During that stretch, Kevin Hogan is averaging 11 yards per attempt when targeting Montgomery and 5.3 when targeting any other player.

During Stanford’s 4-0 start, Hogan averaged 8.6 yards per attempt when targeting any player other than Montgomery, and he completed 60 percent of such attempts.

Looking ahead

Hogan will face UCLA for the third time in his career. In his previous two games (both wins), Hogan targeted his tight ends on 41 percent of his passes and his running backs on 27 percent. He averaged more than 8 yards per attempt throwing to both.

This season, Hogan has thrown a total of nine passes to his tight ends (7 percent of his targets) and 18 to his running backs (13 percent of his targets). He has 54 fewer yards targeting tight ends and running backs this season than he had in his two games against UCLA.

If he can find another target, it could go a long way toward Hogan continuing his success against UCLA.