Two things we learned on Saturday: Not all quarterbacks are created equal, and sometimes a little change goes a long way.
Replacing the inconsistent Josh Nunes under center two drives into the game, redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan injected some much-needed life into the Cardinal offense as No. 14 Stanford (7-2, 5-1 Pac-12) trounced Colorado (1-8, 1-5) in a 48-0 drubbing.
“We knew we were going to give Josh the first two series and give Kevin the next series,” said Shaw. “Kevin took the ball and ran with it and did a heck of a job. …He is fast, he can run, he’s athletic, he can throw on the move to the left or to the right. I’m very impressed with him. We will look really hard and find a couple negatives but I feel really good about what he did today.”
While Shaw did not confirm that Hogan would be the starter against Oregon State this Saturday, he did say, “You’ll see a whole lot of Kevin Hogan.” The big decision won’t be announced until later this week, but the starting role could very well be handed to the dual-threat redshirt freshman, who finished the game 18-of-23 passing for 184 yards and two touchdowns along with seven rushes for 48 yards.
In keeping with what has been the theme of this season, the defense gave the Cardinal a jumpstart when safety Ed Reynolds intercepted Jordan Webb for a 52-yard touchdown return on Colorado’s second drive. The junior Reynolds, who also came up with a pick-six last weekend against Washington State, now leads the nation in interception yards and is tied for second with five interceptions.
“[Defensive coordinator Derek Mason] just made a call where I was the free guy and it was triple coverage,” explained Reynolds. “Once again, it was the front getting pressure and me being able to capitalize on the opportunity…I capitalized and took it straight to the house.”
Stanford’s offense looked sluggish in the early going, seemingly picking up right where it left off against Wazzu. Three consecutive passing plays on the first possession resulted in a three-and-out, and a costly offensive holding penalty called on left tackle David Yankey stalled the second drive. Against one of the worst defenses in the conference, the Cardinal was once again tanking in a nightmarish fashion and only had a 7-0 lead over Colorado at the end of the first quarter.
Enter Kevin Hogan.
The next six drives resulted in five touchdowns and a field goal as the offense started firing on all cylinders with Hogan at the helm.
“I was preparing myself to play as much as they needed me: getting ready and staying warm,” Hogan said. “So that’s what I did.”
After inside linebacker A.J. Tarpley recovered freshman cornerback Alex Carter’s forced fumble on wideout Nick Kasa–also one of the season’s hardest hits from Carter in his second career start–Stanford was handed a short field to work with at the Colorado 40. Hogan darted ahead for 7 yards on the option keeper and then found fullback Ryan Hewitt on the right side for a 7-yard completion. Hewitt would then throw a key block on the ensuing play, allowing running back Stepfan Taylor to burst through for a 26-yard touchdown.
Taylor finished the game with 44 yards and two rushing touchdowns but only carried the ball 10 times before Stanford built a large enough lead that Shaw could safely rest his senior tailback.
Colorado had trouble getting anything going on offense all game against the Cardinal’s steel-curtain defense. Six of the Buffs’ seven drives in the first half ended in either a three-and-out or a turnover. Three different quarterbacks would come in for Colorado, but no one found a way to start the engine as the Buffs had six first downs all game–two of which were defensive penalty freebies.
“We had to prove that we could finish, we know we have a great defense,” said Shaw. “We needed to prove that we could play 60 minutes. No matter who we put in there we have groups of guys who can play at a high level for us…Our guys played extremely well. It was a great game plan and our guys played it to perfection.”
Churning out dominant performances week after week, the Cardinal defense recorded its first shutout in almost two years, manhandling a Buffs offense that hasn’t been held scoreless since Nov. 15, 1986, a stretch of 150 games.
Stanford held the Buffaloes to 97 yards through the air, but more impressively sent them reeling backwards for -21 yards on the ground. In the process, the Cardinal surpassed No. 1 Alabama–yes, Alabama–to become the top-ranked run defense in the country in terms of rushing yards allowed per game.
“As a defense, our goal is to get a goose egg,” said Reynolds. “It was a blessing today that we were able to execute. It was exactly how we wanted; we didn’t give up any big plays. We swarmed the ball and took away the run game early. We focused in on who we knew the big targets were, and it was mainly the tight end. It’s just guys doing their jobs.”
On his second drive, Hogan once again capitalized off a three-and-out by the Buffs. His back-to-back first-down completions to tight end Zach Ertz and Hewitt set up Jamal-Rashad Patterson’s 42-yard run on a reverse handoff. Following Colorado’s impressive goal line stand, Remound Wright finally punched it in on third-and-goal at the Buffs 1-yard line to give Stanford a 21-0 lead with 12:34 left in the second quarter.
The onslaught didn’t end there.
Hogan displayed his quickness on the next possession by scrambling for 20 yards on third down and then connected with tight end Levine Toilolo deep down the right side for a 32-yard haul. A third-down-converting Taylor run next allowed Hogan to fool the entire Buffs defense with a play-action pass, finding a wide-open Ertz in the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown reception.
“Whatever gets this touchdown, it works,” Hogan commented on the play. “[Ertz] made it easy. He’s been working hard all week preparing for the game….Not all my balls were perfect, but they made great catches. The line did a great job protecting me and made it a lot easier.”
The redshirt freshman wasn’t too bad at managing the clock either, as he successfully turned a two-minute drill at the end of the first half into seven points. First-down completions to Taylor, Ertz and Patterson moved the ball efficiently down the field, and Taylor eventually rewarded Hogan’s poise with a 2-yard touchdown run that also gave Stanford a 35-0 lead heading into the locker rooms.
After scoring five touchdowns in the last two games, the Cardinal scored four in the second quarter alone on Saturday.
Stanford came out in the third quarter with the same level of focus and execution. After Jordan Williamson capped the opening drive with a 31-yard field goal, Hogan threw a beautiful back-shoulder pass to Toilolo for a 19-yard touchdown to increase the margin to 45-0.
The Cardinal offense suffered its first three-and-out with Hogan under center toward the end of the third quarter–a drive that was stalled by a Ty Montgomery drop and a rare sack by the Buffs’ defense. Hogan’s day was over, and Shaw sent backups Brett Nottingham and Robbie Picazo into the game for mop-up duty. Another Williamson field goal early in the fourth quarter resulted in the final 48-0 score.
“There’s a couple things here and there that I have to work on,” said Hogan. “I’m going to get in the film room and get more comfortable. It’ll get better.”
Last week, Shaw made it clear that Nunes was still the starter, but Hogan would be getting 12-20 snaps. On Saturday, Hogan ended up getting 48 snaps. The redshirt freshman certainly made a big statement on the field today, but it’s Shaw who has to decide whether the team is moving forward with Hogan for good.
“It’s whatever the coaches want to do,” Ertz said. “Obviously he played great. I think four incompletions for the entire game, that speaks for itself.”
What did the man himself have to say about all of this?
“Whatever the coaches think,” Hogan said. “It was a good team win. Whatever they choose, I’m happy with.”
The Cardinal played perhaps its most complete game of the season on Saturday. But take it with a grain of salt. Given that the brilliant performance came against the worst team in the conference and that the final three opponents on Stanford’s schedule are all ranked in the top 20, the Cardinal has no time to celebrate the victory.
“It’s one game,” Ertz said. “If we don’t play well next week, it doesn’t mean anything. It’s one game at a time. That’s the way we’re looking at it.”
Stanford hosts No. 11 Oregon State on Saturday in a critical Pac-12 North matchup carrying potential conference and BCS implications.