Kevin Hogan's performance against Colorado on Nov. 3 was impressive and encouraging, but what he does against Oregon State in the Nov. 10 game against Oregon State at Stanford Stadium will be far more indicative of his current capabilities and much more significant for the Cardinal.
It's one thing to lead scoring drives on your first six possessions (including five for touchdowns) while going 18-for-23 against a Colorado team that is 1-8, has one of the worst defenses in the country and was hopelessly out of the game midway through the second quarter.
In that game, there was very little pressure on Hogan, who entered the game on the third series with very little expected of him.
But it's another thing for a redshirt freshman like Hogan to have similar success against a team like Oregon State.
This time he will be making his first collegiate start against an Oregon State team that is 7-1, is No. 11 in this week's BCS standings (three spots ahead of Stanford), and ranks No. 2 in the Pac-12 in scoring defense, yielding just 18.1 points a game.
And Hogan may not have a running game to help either, because the Beavers rank fifth in the country in run defense, not far behind Stanford.
The Colorado game gave hints that Hogan can provide the type of productive offense that had been lacking all season under Josh Nunes. Hogan's decisiveness, strength, mobility, versatility and passing accuracy all seemed to give Stanford a better offensive rhythm.
But what happens when he faces a defense like Oregon State's, which has game-planned specifically for Hogan? What happens if he faces adversity, such as an interception or fumble? What happens if he has to play from behind?
This is a critical spot for an inexperienced quarterback given the Cardinal's situation.
Stanford faces three ranked teams -- Oregon State, No. 3 Oregon and No. 18 UCLA, the latter two on the road -- to end the regular season, and the Cardinal needs to win all three to get to where it wants to go, which is the Pac-12 title game and a chance to get to the Rose Bowl.
Of course, the Cardinal defense needs to continue to be as effective as it has been all season, too.
The Cardinal ranks No. 1 in the country in run defense, and it needs to continue that trend against the Beavers, who got 143 rushing yards from Terron Ward in their 36-26 victory over Arizona State's strong defense on Nov. 3.
The Beavers also have two dangerous wide receivers -- Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton -- both of whom rank among the top four in the conference in receiving yards.
Nonetheless, the focus will be on Hogan, who is the pivotal player for Stanford for the rest of the season.
--Stanford ranks first in the country in rushing defense after holding its last three opponents to a combined minus-24 yards rushing. The Cardinal has yielded just 1.98 yards per rushing attempt this season, the only team in the nation holding opponents under 2.0 yards a try. Stanford also leads the nation in sacks with 40, although the official national rankings have the Cardinal with only 39 sacks, still enough to lead the country. Stanford has 17 sacks in the past two games.
--Like Stanford, Oregon State has changed quarterbacks this season and seems to have settled on Cody Vaz. Sean Mannion began the season as the starter, and he was replaced by Vaz for two games after Mannion injured his knee. Mannion returned as the starter for the Oct. 27 loss to Washington, but performed poorly and was replaced during the game. Vaz became the starter again in the Nov. 3 victory over Arizona State, and although his numbers were mediocre, he played well in the second half.
--Stanford remained at No. 14 in this week's BCS standings. Despite its 48-0 victory over Colorado, the Cardinal slipped one spot to No. 16 in the Associated Press poll and remained No. 15 in the USA Today polls. The Cardinal is in the AP top 25 for the 42nd straight week, dating back to Sept. 5, 2010.
--Stanford has intercepted 11 passes this season. It had seven interceptions all of last season. The Cardinal has scored five defensive touchdowns, including three by S Ed Reynolds.
--The starting time for the Nov. 10 home game against Oregon State was not announced until Nov. 4. The game will start at noon, so it will be interesting to see how many fans show up for a game against the Beavers, who are highly ranked but are not a good draw traditionally. Stanford had a poor turnout for its most recent home game, the Oct. 27 contest against Washington State.
--The game against Oregon State is the Cardinal's final home game of the season unless it happens to host the Pac-12 title game. The Cardinal has won seven straight home games and 18 of the last 19 at Stanford Stadium.
SERIES HISTORY: Stanford leads 50-25-3 (last meeting, 2011, 38-13 Stanford).
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: It's difficult to make sweeping assessments of Stanford's offense with a quarterback (Kevin Hogan) who has never started a collegiate game and played only two quarters on Nov. 3, when he established himself as the team's No. 1 quarterback. He adds several dimensions not present with Josh Nunes, most significantly the threat of running the option. The Cardinal offense had been mediocre at best before Hogan took over against Colorado. But Hogan completed 18-of-23 passes and led the offense to 38 points in his two quarters of action. The Cardinal running game has not been nearly as effective as expected, partly because defenses have been loading up against it. Stepfan Taylor is averaging 4.6 yards per carry, and the Cardinal would like to improve that. Stanford has an outstanding tight end tandem in Levine Toilolo and Zach Ertz, and they remain the team biggest weapons in the passing game.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Cardinal defense has been outstanding this season except for the Oct. 13 game against Arizona, which used its spread option offense and athleticism to create space and slice apart the Cardinal. The Cardinal ranks first in the country against the run, and the past two Stanford opponents have had negative yards rushing. Stanford's front seven is among the best in the country, and its depth and talent at the four linebacker spots are unmatched. Opponents have almost given up trying to run against the Cardinal, which is one reason Stanford ranks 104th nationally in pass defense. Stanford's weakness is at cornerback, but it is not awful at that position. Teams have had success passing against Stanford, but the Cardinal had 17 sacks the past two games and has 40 for the season, most in the country. Thirteen different Cardinal players have at least one sack.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Usually you're in this position because you're quarterback is playing well." -- Stanford coach David Shaw, on the odd circumstance of having two ranked teams, Stanford and Oregon State, change their starting quarterback during the season.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Oregon State at Stanford -- Stanford is 7-2 (5-1 in the Pac-12) after a 48-0 victory over Colorado, and Oregon State is 7-1 (5-1) after a 38-28 victory over Arizona State. The only conference loss for both teams came on the road against Washington by similar scores. Stanford has won the past two games against Oregon State.
KEYS TO THE GAME: How well Stanford redshirt freshman QB Kevin Hogan plays in his first collegiate start will go a long way toward determining the winner. He needs to get off to a good start to build momentum and confidence in the offense. If he completes his first few passes, the Cardinal can create an offensive rhythm. Defensively, the key is controlling Oregon State's Brandin Cooks and Markus Wheaton, both of whom are big-play wide receivers. Cornerback is probably the weakest position on Stanford's defense, so the Cardinal will need to apply pressure to Beavers OB Cody Vaz. The Beavers have allowed 19 sacks in eight games, and the Cardinal leads the nation in sacks, so Stanford should be able to get to Vaz.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
OLBs Chase Thomas/Trent Murphy -- Thomas and Murphy have combined for 22 tackles for losses (including 11 sacks), nine quarterback hurries and five passes knocked down. Both are capable making game-changing plays.
DE Ben Gardner -- He has 11 tackles for losses, including 5.5 sacks, and he is a major reason opposing teams have trouble running the ball.
TEs Levin Toilolo/Zach Ertz -- They have combined for 56 receptions and 913 receiving yards, and they are tied for the team lead in touchdown catches with four each.
TB Stepfan Taylor -- Taylor is averaging 105 rushing yards a game, but he managed just 58 yards and 43 yards in the past two games.
QB Kevin Hogan -- He has completed 19-of-24 passes for his career (all but one pass attempt and completion coming in the Nov. 3 game against Colorado). He also has rushed for 64 yards on 14 attempts and provides a running threat at the position that Stanford did not have before.
--Freshman OT Andrus Peat did not play against Colorado because of a finger injury, and he is questionable for the game against Oregon State.
--S Ed Reynolds has five interceptions, tied for second in the country. He has returned three for touchdowns, which is a school record and tied with one other player for the most in the country.
--WR Jamal-Rashad Patterson has started four straight games, but it's uncertain whether he or Ty Montgomery will start against Oregon.
--TB Stepfan Taylor needs 317 yards to pass Darrin Nelson and become Stanford's career rushing leader. He has not fumbled in 206 carries this season, and has carried 252 straight times without a fumble. He needs 53 yards for his third consecutive 1,000-yard season, which has never been done by a Stanford back. (Nelson had three 1,000-yard seasons but not in consecutive years.)