By George Chen
Credit should be given where credit is due, and the Stanford football coaching staff and players deserve a lot of credit for bouncing back the way they did on Saturday.
After getting shredded by a buzzsaw in the Arizona desert a week ago, no one would have faulted the Cardinal for quitting after a 4-3 start to the season and tumbling out of the AP poll for the first time in 73 weeks. Stanford may be in the middle of a rebuilding year — beyond frustrating for fans to watch — and downright awful on offense, but the one thing it doesn’t do is fold its cards. As alumni (however few) returned to Stanford Stadium on homecoming weekend, they could take comfort in knowing that the most important quality Jim Harbaugh instilled in Stanford football still remained in David Shaw’s recruits: responding to adversity.
Stanford still didn’t play perfectly against Oregon State by any means — senior quarterback Kevin Hogan had two inexcusable picks, special teams saw a punt blocked and a missed 26-yard chip shot and the offense fumbled four times, though fortunately recovered all of them. At times on Saturday, the Cardinal played precariously, threatening to revert to their old form at a moment’s notice. But when the fate of Stanford’s season seemed to hinge on how the Cardinal would respond after the Beavers tied the score at seven apiece in the first quarter, they delivered.
The turnaround started with Shaw, who earlier in the week shouldered the blame himself for the team’s plight. Shaw should be commended, not because he finally made the necessary adjustments on offense, but because he did it his own way.
— Stanford Football (@StanfordFball) October 26, 2014
Some fans had asked for Hogan to be benched, which is downright ludicrous. Like it or not, Hogan is Stanford’s best option right now. Even if Keller Chryst is ready to be starting under center — and that’s a big if — it’d be a waste to burn his redshirt seven games into the season. And Evan Crower and Ryan Burns have shown nothing to make me think that they can play better than Hogan, which was further confirmed on Saturday when Crower came into the game for mop-up duty.
There was a palpable unrest in the stadium when Hogan threw his second interception, but instead of taking the ball out of Hogan’s hands, Shaw asked his quarterback to redeem himself. Hogan responded with what he knows how to do best: a career-long 37-yard touchdown off the zone read and a nasty stiff arm to boot. Twice this season, Shaw has chosen to deviate from his conservative style in managing his quarterback. We saw it happen against Washington, when he let Hogan run wild en route to the game-winning touchdown despite him fumbling on the previous drive.
Shaw has defended Hogan the entire season, and there’s a reason why: Shaw defends his players to the last breath because he trusts them. Hogan may no longer be the starting quarterback next season, but he is the starting quarterback for the 2014 Stanford team, and that’s unlikely to change after he threw for 277 yards and averaged 9.9 yards per attempt on Saturday.
We also saw the core of Shaw’s coaching strategy on offense remain unchanged. Shaw still tried to get the ball to Ty Montgomery as much as possible while working Jordan Pratt into the gameplan. He still chose to distribute the running load across his stable of running backs while increasing Christian McCaffrey’s touches. And he still pushed Hogan to be a pocket-passer while allowing him to the run the no-huddle offense.
Shaw and the players promised changes, and they delivered them against a quality Beavers defense. If Stanford plays the way it did against Arizona State this weekend, it’ll lose to Oregon by four touchdowns. If Stanford plays like the way it did against Oregon State, it’ll lose by 10 points. But if Stanford plays like the way it did against Oregon State and eliminate its turnovers, then maybe, just maybe, it’ll have a fighting chance against the Ducks.
After Christian McCaffrey’s first half touchdown on Saturday, George Chen could not contain his excitement. We’re talking teenage girl-meets-Justin Bieber type enthusiasm here. Send suggestions for McCaffrey-inspired celebration antics to gchen15 ‘at’ stanford.edu.