David Shaw liking first down production

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- It's getting easier to tell when Stanford coach David Shaw really likes something. He either gives short, succinct answers or long, thought-provoking responses. Rarely is he in between.

So when approached with Stanford's offensive numbers on first down, he was quick.

He likes it.

For the Stanford Cardinal, it's first down and good-to-go.

Following the Arizona game, Wildcats coach Mike Stoops noted how Stanford's offense "manipulated" his defense. Apt words. Through three games this season, the Cardinal have been anything but predictable -- especially on first downs.

Through the first quarter of the season, Stanford has rushed 53 times for 290 yards on first down -- an average of 5.4 yards per carry. This number includes Stepfan Taylor's 49-yard run against Arizona, the longest running play from scrimmage this season.

"That's our profile," Shaw said. "I think the yards per carry are really good. That's excellent."

In the air, quarterback Andrew Luck has been outstanding on first downs. He's completed 24-of-31 passes for 390 yards, no interceptions and three touchdowns. Of his 786 total passing yards, almost 50 percent have come on first down. He's also completing 77 percent of his passes on first down -- well ahead of his season average of 67.1 percent.

Shaw said he draws a lot of his offensive philosophies from working with Jon Gruden -- who Shaw said always prided himself on having one of the best first-down rushing teams in the country.

The rational is simple -- a good gain on first down opens up the playbook for all sorts of options on second down. This is where Stanford has been fantastic with play-action. Of course, not every drive that opens with a good play is going to be a touchdown -- nor is it going to be a failure. But the chances of extending drives, and therefore scoring points, shoots up drastically when faced with second-and-four rather than second-and-9.

Taylor, obviously, leads the way on first down. He's carried the ball 35 times on first down and averages 5.4 yards per carry. Both of Tyler Gaffney's rushing touchdowns have come on first down and the junior is averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Not much left to say from Shaw.

"I like those numbers a lot," he said.

He's happy.