By George Chen
It was déjà vu for the Stanford players on Friday morning as they returned to the LA Downtown Hotel for the start of the Rose Bowl media sessions. If it wasn’t for the presence of offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren — who became the first coach in college football history to wear a pair of Google glasses while addressing the media — and senior running back Tyler Gaffney, you might’ve thought it was the 2012 Rose Bowl.
But don’t think that the Cardinal players aren’t grateful to be back for The Granddaddy of Them All, even with the Rose Bowl experience fresh in their minds. After a three-day hiatus featuring a trip to Disneyland, the Stanford players and coaches have resumed practices and are refocused with on their sole mission in Pasadena: beat Michigan State in the 100th Rose Bowl Game.
“We’re going to definitely enjoy all the festivities — everything that the Rose Bowl has to offer — but at the same time it’s very much a business trip,” said junior quarterback Kevin Hogan.
At the center of the pre-game chatter is the question of whether Hogan and the Cardinal offense can move the ball against the nation’s top, and perhaps most feared, defense, one that gives up just 3.9 yards per play. Though the Spartans defense lost its backbone when star linebacker Max Bullough was suspended for violating team rules — a major loss given that Bullough was responsible for audibling the unit into the correct scheme — it still boasts a loaded roster featuring Darqueze Dennard, the nation’s best cornerback, and defensive end Shilique Calhoun, who scored three defensive touchdowns this season.
“[Michigan State’s defense is] very well coached,” Hogan said. “They disguise their formations very well. Every time they line up the same and like a flash it will change completely. It gives the offense trouble trying to figure out how to protect the ball or which way to run the ball.”
But despite the Spartans’ mastery of disguising their defensive schemes, Bloomgren is confident in his offense’s ability to stick to the philosophy that he has preached since the first day of preseason camp: alignment, assignment and adjustment — what he refers to as “triple A.” Bloomgren also highlighted the fact that the extra month of preparation allowed the Cardinal coaching staff to study film of every game that Michigan State played this year.
“I’m never going to let it be about the opponent,” Bloomgren said. “I have so much confidence in our offensive line being able to [move] the ball. I’m not going to cap ourselves or say I’d be surprised if we score points. I certainly expect us to.”
Hogan is playing in his second Rose Bowl Game despite just having 18 starts under his belt. There haven’t been many chances during this rollercoaster season to reflect on Hogan’s development since last year, but Hogan’s teammates took some time on Friday to step back and talk about how impressed they were with his progression.
“I think Kevin has grown a lot as a leader from last year,” said senior left tackle David Yankey. “In the offseason you saw him develop as a leader for the offense and the team as a whole, and now you see him doing all the right things — taking more notes than anybody — and just doing everything that the QB should and being a great leader for the offense.”
“It’s really easy for us coaches to trust him as a leader,” Bloomgren added.
In last year’s Rose Bowl Game, Hogan got off to a torrid start but was knocked off rhythm after taking a big hit on Stanford’s second touchdown drive in the first quarter. The signal-caller also hasn’t forgotten how he wasted an opportunity to seal the game when he overthrew tight end Levine Toilolo in the end zone on third-and-goal.
“I remember at the end of the game we could have put it out of reach but that’s something that you can learn from, and it’s going to be nice to be on that same field this year and just be able to get a second chance,” Hogan said.
No team in college football has won more games this decade than Stanford, which is also the only program in the nation to be playing in its fourth straight BCS Bowl. Running back Tyler Gaffney is one of the few players left on the team who was on the 2009 Sun Bowl team and understands the disappointment of not playing in a BCS Bowl, and it’s only fitting that Gaffney, a San Diego native, will end his college career in Pasadena.
“You grow up watching the Rose Bowl, especially as a West Coast kid. This is the game you want to be in,” Gaffney said. “Last year I was there as a fan watching these guys win a Rose Bowl championship, and this year it’s almost a surreal moment where a year ago today I was just a fan, and now I’m in the game. This is all you can ask for.”
Contact George Chen at [email protected]
Note: The article incorrectly stated that Jim Plunkett won two consecutive Rose Bowl Games. Don Bunce was the Rose Bowl-winning quarterback for Stanford during the 1971 season. The Daily regrets this error.