Stanford found an offense and a quarterback in its 48-0 victory over Colorado in Boulder, Colo., on Nov. 3, and the discovery of the latter is the chief reason Stanford finally demonstrated an ability to move the ball and score points.
Redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan entered the game on Stanford's third possession, taking over an offense that had done virtually nothing in three previous road games or in the previous week's game against Washington State or in the first two possessions against the Buffaloes with starter Josh Nunes at quarterback.
All Hogan did was direct Stanford to touchdowns on his first four drives and scores on his first six possessions, including five touchdowns. He entered with just one second left in the first quarter and did not play in the fourth but led the Cardinal to 38 points in the two quarters he played.
He finished 18-for-23 for 184 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, and rushed seven times for 48 yards.
Three things need to be considered before Hogan is anointed as another Andrew Luck:
--Hogan did it against Colorado, which has one of the worst defenses in the country and has yielded more points than any other FBS team. What Hogan faces in the Cardinal's final three games against Oregon State, Oregon and UCLA will be much different. His play as a starter against Oregon State at Stanford on Nov. 10 will provide a better indicator of his progress.
--Defenses will now begin to game plan for Hogan, whose skills as a runner and whose passing style are considerably different from those of Nunes, who started Stanford's first nine games.
--Hogan benefited from favorable field position the first time he took the field against Colorado and then benefited from the momentum developed in the first few drives.
Having said that, there are a number of reasons to suggest Hogan will make a major difference for Stanford, which needed some offense to complement its outstanding defense.
First of all, at 6-4, 224 pounds, Hogan is the kind of big, strong, aggressive presence who fits the physical identity Stanford wants to display on offense. He resembles Luck physically, even down to his long-striding deceptive speed. He's light years from Luck in terms of throwing ability and understanding of the game's nuances, but he provides a similar look.
Hogan also offers a lot more variety. He can effectively run the option. He can roll out to either side and throw effectively, or he can pass from the pocket. He can run on planned runs or a scramble. He can toss touch passes or he can fire lasers. Nunes, by contrast, was a basic pocket passer with considerably less mobility. Hogan has yet to show he can throw the deep ball accurately, but he has the arm strength to do it.
Hogan is more decisive than Nunes, making his reads quickly and getting rid of the ball quickly, which not only increases productivity but creates a better offensive rhythm. It was not a coincidence that Stanford's running game improved when Hogan was on the field.
Finally, Hogan provides more creativity. He can make something happen when nothing seems to exist. Twice he completed passes against Colorado when he seemed to be wrapped up by defenders. He's not afraid to be innovative.
WHAT'S AHEAD: Stanford plays at home against Oregon State on Nov. 10, then plays at Oregon on Nov. 17 before finishing up at UCLA. Those three teams are all ranked and have a combined record of 23-3. How new QB Kevin Hogan and the Cardinal do in this stretch -- which is the Cardinal's toughest stretch of the season -- will determine whether the Cardinal can get to the Rose Bowl or slip to the middle of the pack in the conference. It starts with the home game against Oregon State, which had to rally to beat Arizona State 36-26 and improve to 7-1.
--Stanford limited Colorado to minus-21 yards rushing, the second straight week the Cardinal's opponent had negative yards rushing. Over the past three games, Stanford's opponents have totaled minus-34 yards on the ground.
--Stanford recorded seven sacks against Colorado after recording a school-record 10 sacks the previous week against Washington State. Stanford has 40 sacks for the season, which leads the nation, although the NCAA's official stats have Stanford with 39 sacks.
--QB Kevin Hogan was not a factor in the preseason competition between Josh Nunes and Brett Nottingham to determine the team's starting quarterback for the opener. Coach David Shaw said Hogan was not ready to handle the position at that time or to compete for the job, but he has improved each week. He began getting playing time earlier this season with certain packages designed for him and his ability to run. But his playing time expanded as his ability to pass and handle the offense expanded.
--In Stanford's first three road games, its offense scored a total of three touchdowns, and one of those came with Hogan at quarterback. In one quarter with Hogan as the quarterback in Stanford's fourth road game, Stanford's offense scored four touchdowns against Colorado.
--The Cardinal defense scored its fifth touchdown of the season when S Ed Reynolds returned an interception for Stanford's first score. It was Reynolds' fifth interception, and his third TD on an interception return.
KEEP AN EYE ON: QB Kevin Hogan is the focal point of all discussion surrounding Stanford. He was outstanding against Colorado, energizing an offense that had played poorly most of the season. Whether he can do it against Oregon State and Oregon, whose defenses are much better than the one he faced against Colorado, is the question. You must remember Hogan is a redshirt freshman who has never started a college game. On the other hand, he has completed 19 of 24 passes this season for three touchdowns and no interceptions while rushing 14 times for 76 yards. Most important, in seven possessions with Hogan at quarterback against Colorado, Stanford scored five touchdowns and a field goal.
LOOKING GOOD: The Cardinal defense put up its fourth straight outstanding performance. Stanford's front seven has been impressive, especially against the run. Colorado gained just 76 yards total, and Stanford recorded its first shutout of the season and first since the final regular-season game of the 2010 season. Stanford has given up just 1.92 yards per rushing attempt this season, and the Cardinal now leads the nation in rushing defense, overtaking Alabama. Stanford has scored five defensive touchdowns this season.
STILL NEEDS WORK: Stanford's running game still is not the weapon it was expected to be. The Cardinal had 206 rushing yards against Colorado, but the Buffaloes have the worst run defense in the Pac-12 and one of the worst in the country. Forty-two of Stanford's rushing yards came on an end-around and 20 more came on quarterback scrambles. Stepfan Taylor had just 43 yards on 10 carries, and 26 of those came on one run. He had just 58 yards the previous week against a Washington State defense that is also weak against the run.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You see the mobility. It's not just his scrambling ability for a couple of yards. He's fast. He's athletic. He can throw on the move to the left or right. You saw the push up in the pocket and find his check-downs. I can't find a lot of negatives in what he did today. I'm very, very impressed. -- Stanford coach David Shaw on quarterback Kevin Hogan.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--ILB Jarek Lancaster had three tackles, but that was enough to tie for the team lead in tackles against Colorado. He also had a team-high two sacks and was one of six Stanford players to get a sack in the game.
--QB Kevin Hogan was 18-for-23 against Colorado and is 19-for-24 for the season with three TDs and no interceptions. He was also the team's leading rusher with 48 yards, even though he played only two quarters.
--TE Zach Ertz had a team-high six catches, albeit for just 41 yards. He had a touchdown catch, so he leads the team in catches (38) and scoring receptions (4).
--WR Jamal-Rashad Patterson had just one carry, but he gained 42 yards on it to put the ball at the 2-yard line and set up a touchdown. He also had two catches for 18 yards.
--OLB Trent Murphy had a sack against Colorado, giving him 7.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss for the season.
--WR Ty Montgomery returned to action after missing three games with a leg injury. He did not start and did not make a catch until the second half.
--Senior QB Robbie Picazo was one of four Stanford quarterbacks to play against Colorado. Picazo had his first pass attempt of the season against the Buffaloes, and he completed it. For his career, Picazo is 4-for-4.
--Freshman OT Andrus Peat did not play against Colorado because of a finger injury.