As the saying goes, football games are either lost or won in the fourth quarter.
A pretty obvious statement but when it comes down to it, how a team performs in the fourth is often the determining factor of whether or not they win the game.
If a team is able to control the final frame, they put themselves in the position to thwart any opponent’s comeback hopes and win close games.
This has been Stanford’s biggest problem this season. They have greatly struggled with keeping the same pace from the beginning of the game all the way through the final whistle.
The fourth quarter has been a comedy of horrors for the Cardinal, and if it continues, it will be the main reason for the horrific downfall quietly looming in their near future.
In the final quarter this season, the Cardinal are currently minus-21 in scoring margin with their most points (14) coming against Oregon State (a game that was practically unreachable by the time the fourth started).
In fact, when the game is truly on the line going into the fourth, Stanford appears to be playing with a Tecmo Bowl playbook . By the time three quarters have passed, the opposing head coach seems to have figured out the eight plays that Jim Harbaugh likes to run.
It goes something like this:
- Run Gerhart left, right, or up the middle.
- Pass it to Gerhart in the flats.
- Passing plays where Luck throws outs, quick slants, or curls.
- Play actions where Luck bootlegs and throws it short or runs it.
And as this trend continues, more coaches are beginning to catch on.
In four games this year the Cardinal have failed to put up a single point in the decisive quarter. While their leads were big enough to weather this lack of a storm against San Jose State and UCLA, last weekend against Arizona and in Week Two versus Wake Forest it proved to be fatal.
Stanford entered the fourth quarter in both of those losses with a very slim lead and because of extremely conservative play calling, it ended up letting these teams right back into the game. Even in the UCLA win, the Bruins were able to muster a possible game winning drive.
But the worst part is, it seems like all they are trying to accomplish in the fourth is to maintain the lead rather than adding to it.
Everything about Stanford’s fourth quarter offense has been lackadaisical. If you take out the stats from the only game where Stanford entered the fourth quarter trailing (vs. Oregon State), the numbers are horrific.
While Stanford has averaged a middle-of-the-road 77.2 yards of fourth quarter offense in these games, they have only scored two touchdowns.
But the most alarming stat is how they have faired on third-downs. In 21 tries, the Cardinal have only converted on four third-down plays in this crucial quarter. It is hard to hold onto a lead when you keep giving your opponent another chance at cutting into it.
As the Stanford offense continues to prove their fourth quarter ineptness, their defense is doing everything possible to show that they can one-up them.
The Cardinal defense has allowed too many drives to continue because of their inability to come up with stops on third down. Offenses are averaging an outrageous 36-percent conversion rate on third downs against Stanford in the fourth.
Stanford is also allowing a ghastly 7.4 points in this quarter, which means the Cardinal need to have at least a two possession lead entering the fourth to have any hopes of coming out the victor.
But, the outstanding list of opponents slated provides Stanford with a zero-to-no chance of having a double-digit lead any time soon, and if Stanford can’t find a way to lock it up in the fourth, the next five games should be extremely rough.