Widgets Magazine

Chen: The starting job is Hogan’s if he returns, but should it be?

There’s one question that should preoccupy all Stanford football fans for the next eight months.

It’s not which bowl the Cardinal will end up in (although the players certainly have a strong preference), or whether the offensive line will find its bearings in the offseason or even which five-star recruits Stanford will ink.

If you’re focused on next season, there is only one aching question that should be festering in your mind through spring ball and the dog days of summer: If Kevin Hogan returns for his fifth year, should he be the starting quarterback for Stanford?

In reality, two parts to this question exist because there’s a difference between whether he should be the starting quarterback and whether he will be the starting quarterback. I believe that Hogan should be benched but I also think he will be the starter at the beginning of the 2015 season, and my answers to both questions remain unchanged after seeing his epic performance against UCLA.

I’ve defended Hogan’s play as much as anybody else besides David Shaw has, but after seeing him struggle so much this season, I can’t bring myself to believe that Hogan will ever be a good fit for the type of offense the Cardinal are accustomed to running. I don’t think Hogan can ever become the quarterback that Stanford needs him to be. In Stanford’s West Coast offense, the quarterback needs to have pocket-passing abilities. That doesn’t mean the quarterback has to stay in the pocket all the time, but when it’s the best play available and there’s a receiver open, he needs to be able to stay in there, recognize the coverage and make the throw. Three-time Super Bowl champion Steve Young is the perfect example of a quarterback who made crazy scrambles but was just as deadly staying in the pocket in Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense.

After two full seasons, Hogan hasn’t shown that he’s capable of consistently going through his progressions and making accurate throws in the pocket. His throwing mechanics haven’t improved much, his footwork is still sloppy and he still struggles with deciphering blitzes before the snap. Much criticism has been directed at Shaw for not dialing up play-calls that take advantage of Hogan’s running abilities, and while those points are valid to a certain extent, an offense shouldn’t sacrifice the integrity of its scheme or entirely change its play-calling because of the deficiencies of one player. In a West Coast offense that relies on the power running game setting up the play-action pass over the middle, the quarterback can’t just roll out on a bootleg on every single passing play — that requires throwing most of the playbook away.

There’s no doubt that Hogan looked terrific against UCLA this past Friday. He was unbelievable. Hogan went 16-of-19 passing for 234 yards and 2 touchdowns and really should’ve been 19-of-19 without the three drops. More impressively, he made NFL throws — the back-shoulder throw to Austin Hooper was a thing of beauty and even the short throw to Jordan Pratt on the curl route was one of the most well-timed passes he’s ever made. It was the best performance by a Stanford quarterback since Andrew Luck in the Fiesta Bowl (I know that’s not saying all that much, but it’s been almost three years).

But my question for you is, do you think that Luck-esque performance is sustainable? Do you think he can be that good consistently? After looking at his whole body of work in the 31 games that he’s started, I don’t think so. Fans wonder why Hogan seemed to be at his best in his first year when he took over for Josh Nunes, but the truth is that one of the nation’s best offensive lines and running backs bailed out his quarterbacking deficiencies the past two seasons. In 2012, Hogan not going through his reads wasn’t much of an issue because Zach Ertz always got open. When you have an offensive line that gives you all day to throw and Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney, who fall forward for five yards on every play, life as the quarterback is easy — Hogan just needed to make a couple big plays here and there, and the rest of the team would take care of the game. And it’s not like the 2012 and 2013 teams were blowing out opponents. The Cardinal no longer have a workhorse running back or a dominant possession receiver — the two pillars that Hogan has clung to in the past — and Stanford probably isn’t going to have either of those two elements next year.

Yes, part of Hogan’s regression can be attributed to opposing defenses finally figuring him out — not very different from how NFL teams have found a way to make Colin Kaepernick look awful — but the fundamental problem is that he’s never been able to go through his reads or be a comfortable pocket-passer. What makes you think that he’ll be able to after two unsuccessful offseasons?

Is Keller Chryst the one? I don’t know. No one outside of the Stanford coaches and players knows for sure. His high school tape sure looks impressive, but we all know that at the college level, most quarterbacks don’t trample defensive ends and that not every receiver is open by 20 yards . But considering that Chryst operated out of a pro-style offense in high school, there’s a very good chance that he’s already better equipped to run Stanford’s offense than Hogan. Stanford’s massive playbook is daunting, but Chryst is a Stanford student — he’s smart, and he’s going to be able to learn the playbook if he hasn’t already. I have a lot more confidence in Chryst mastering the playbook than Hogan becoming a reliable pocket-passer. We’ve seen Hogan’s ceiling, and it’s time for Chryst to get a chance.

But I also don’t think that Chryst will be the starter, at least at the beginning of the 2015 season. It all boils down to Shaw’s decision-making. Chryst can’t just be better than Hogan for Shaw to make the switch in the offseason. The younger player needs to be significantly better. Jim Harbaugh chose to redshirt Luck in 2008 despite the fact that Luck was clearly better than the three other senior quarterbacks competing for the starting job, so what do you think it’s going to take from Chryst to convince a much more conservative Shaw that he should be the starter?

Shaw is always protective of his players, and no one more so than Hogan. I doubt Shaw is giving up on Hogan right now, and it’s easy to understand why. Luck, Taylor, Gaffney and Toby Gerhart were all credited to Harbaugh’s magic. But Hogan is Shaw’s product and Shaw’s product only. Shaw has lived and died by his dual-threat quarterback for the majority of his Stanford coaching career, so I can’t imagine him benching Hogan in favor of Chryst without being almost 100 percent confident in making that decision.

I think Hogan keeps his job to start the 2015 season. If he somehow transforms into the quarterback that some people thought he would be, then this argument becomes a moot point. But if he doesn’t — and it’s likely that he won’t — then Shaw has a huge decision to make. Does he stick with his old horse or does he give Chryst a chance? My guess is that he would make the switch in the middle of the season if Hogan’s deficiencies compromise the offense’s identity. Shaw wants to keep Hogan, but not at the expense of handicapping his pro-style offensive scheme.

But then again, that’s just my opinion. What’s definitive is that if and when that day arrives, Shaw will have to make one of the biggest decisions in his coaching career.

Kevin Hogan is going to win the Heisman Trophy next year, get picked No. 1 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft and, most importantly, make George Chen eat his words. You heard it here first. Make George hear it from all angles by sending him emails at gchen15 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About George Chen

George Chen is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily who writes football, football and more football. Previously he worked at The Daily as the President and Editor in Chief, Executive Editor, Managing Editor of Sports, the football beat reporter and a sports desk editor. George also co-authored The Daily's recent book documenting the rise of Stanford football, "Rags to Roses." He is a senior from Painted Post, NY majoring in Biology. To contact him, please email at gchen15@stanford.edu.
  • Candid One

    GC, you’ve punked us with those bloggers’ cut-and-paste theories about what somewhat happened during this season. Your omission of the offensive line’s disastrous year is nearly disingenuous.

    What happened to the Josh Nunes performance in the 2012 Arizona game in which Nunes saved the defense’s bacon? That was the post-Luck standard that Hogan hasn’t matched–yet.

    What justification do you have for not mentioning Ryan Burns? At least Burns has an added year of playbook familiarity. Hogan initially had problems with game speed when he’d run packages behind Nunes. Until Chryst has had a chance to experience D-1 game speed, he’s a nonstarter, literally. If Hogan doesn’t return, maybe the spring camp will be his coming out…or stash him behind Burns, which raises the issue of depth either way.

    For a future nurturing of Burns/Chryst behind Hogan, there’s no parallel with the apprenticeship that Hogan had behind Nunes; both were essentially contemporaries. Now, not only does Hogan have about two and a half years of experience as a starter, but he’s also demonstrated in this last game that he has the tools to be what Stanford expected after 2013.

    His mechanics, his throwing motion, his footwork, are all esoteric gibberish if he makes bad decisions. It’s not clear that the poor line play combined with the questionable game plans and play calls weren’t a large part of Hogan’s travails. In several games, his support cast let him down, greatly. Those dropped passes against Notre Dame, where Hogan played fairly well, were showstoppers, cumulatively. Over the season, Hogan made mistakes while his support cast made more. Yep, he had his bad moments but not as many as the line and the coaches had. Substantively, this past season was a team issue.

    After the UCLA game, the most redeeming aspect is that this current offensive line is finally meshing (knock on Formica) and will return at least four starters. Neither Crower, nor Burns, nor Chryst were going to do as well as Hogan has done with such shoddy inconsistency from this edition of the TWU.

    Also, there’s been a rather damning specter of QB coaching missing in action. How does a decent 2013 journeyman QB follow with a performance slump? If Hogan was mishandled, did any of his backups fare any better? The 2013 Hogan was carried by a stout offensive line that made few errors and a whatchamacallit cow, Tyler Gaffney. FWIW, Gaffney carried the offense–and the coaches–not only Hogan.

    There were too many variables in play to casually dismiss Hogan as a starter if he returns. Clearly, you’ve shown that you lack enough equations to accommodate so many variables.

  • Harry

    Stanford does not run a West Coast offense. The West Coast offense is a horizontal, pass-first offense in which the horizontal, short precision passes stretch the field and create gaps for the running game. Hogan is not at all suited to that offense, but is very well suited to the power/play action offense Stanford ran when it had power backs to run it. Hogan does not have the quick release and accuracy required for that offense, but has the deep ball touch–he’s a better deep thrower than Luck was–to burn safeties who come up to cover the play that too quickly turns into play action.

    Stanford’s offense this year was a team failure. The offense committed seven penalties against USC, four by an offensive line that also was responsible for the disastrous Wildcat snap to Montgomery that caused a 13 yard loss. That line also blew its protection on the play where Wright was all but forced to chop block the pass rusher, a penalty that negated what would have been the winning touchdown pass. Add in the plague of fumbles–far too many by Hogan–four missed field goals in our first eight tries, penalties and turnovers by the special teams, and a five-loss season was all but assured,

    In any case, the Stanford offense–the one we ran with Gerhart, Taylor and Gaffney or the version we toyed with this year when it became clear we lacked a power back–predates by decades the West Coast offense, either the Walsh version or the earlier, deep passing first game developed by Sid Gilliam, and our offense–before this season or during it–bears next to no resemblance to either of those two variations.

  • Randy Bailey

    I feel the best plan is to have an open competition for the quarterback job next year. Whoever earns it should have it. Go into the new season with the attitude of whoever truly deserves the job will get the job.

  • gchen15

    Thanks for your comments, Candid One.

    I’ve mentioned the offensive line’s sloppy play in almost all of my columns, but it’s completely irrelevant to who will be starting under center next season.

    I’m not sure you want to take Nunes’ performance in the 2012 Arizona game as the post-Luck standard. Nunes played great, but it came against one of the worst defenses that Stanford has faced in the last three years. The true post-Luck standard is Hogan’s performance in the 2013 Pac-12 Championship Game, which he has repeated just once this season (UCLA).

    I’m also not sure what you’ve seen from Ryan Burns that makes you think he could be the starter. His performance in the spring game was abysmal, and he’s currently behind Evan Crower on the depth chart.

  • gchen15

    There are variations of the West Coast offense. Shaw himself has said that Stanford runs a pro-style West Coast offense.

  • Candid One

    OC Bloomberg reacted to a “West Coast” query last year and called it a “no-coast offense”. One flaw in describing Stanford’s offensive style is its lack of necessary talent at all skill positions during most of the past 5 seasons. Either the tight ends were lean on numbers or the wide receivers were lean on numbers. In 12011, Chris Owusu was a repeated concussion casualty and Griff Whalen was the main WR target for Luck but the Tree Amigos rose to the occasion. Still Whalen was the primary receiver by 20 catches. In 2010, Montgomery got hurt early and TE Zach Ertz was the most effective of the receiving corps. RB Taylor was the #2 receiver. It was amazing that Stanford was so successful with such skeletonized receiving groups. And then in 2013, a dearth of TEs was compensated by several effective WRs. Ironically, this 2014 season has been the been balanced receiving corps with depth at WR and at TE. This is the closest to fully staffed for West Coast potential since 2009. It certainly seemed that Mike Bloomberg’s comment had reflected last on season’s weird receiver groupings. David Shaw was describing intent while Bloomberg was describing reality.

  • ADPaterson

    Clarify please: The official Stanford academic calendar shows “Undergraduate dorms” CLOSED until 8am, Jan. 3 (from Dec. 13).
    http://exploredegrees.stanford.edu/academiccalendar/#text

    Stanford just accepted a bowl bid in Santa Clara on Dec. 30. University
    needs to clarify for sports writers whether ANY undergrads will “even
    be in town” for that bowl game (?!!) Foster Farms Bowl isn’t really a
    “home” game for Stanford if nobody is “home”… !
    For those students in town… WHERE DO THEY STAY?
    Unlike any of the other Pac12 members, Stanford is not a state commuter
    school. It’s an international student body.
    Poll your readers online: What percent of students will be in town Dec. 30?

  • Candid One

    Many grads, as well as undergrads, will be elsewhere during the official Winter Closure of campus. Stanford is a national university, with its undergrad students coming from all across the nation. National weather issues will play a strong role in any inclinations for students to return a week early without campus access.

    The local media needs to do its own homework. Stanford University has been there since before most regional towns and cities were incorporated. If local media wonks don’t bother to learn that aspect of that Junior University, shame on them.

    The local storm of Dec. 11 is an example of the kind of stadium access issues that could arise for Dec. 30. TV may be a preference for most Stanford fans.

  • maddogsfavsnpiks

    Of course you’re entitled to your opinions Mr Chen, but i view this article as misinformed at best, a cheap shot, at worst.
    First of all, you say that “the one question that should preoccupy Stanford fans…is (Hogan’s status)..”
    That’s misinformed simpletonism. Football is a TEAM game.
    – There are a broad variety of questions, and imo, the lack of a power running back at the core of the O, is HUGE, and impossible to ignore. (BTW, please don’t ever call such a RB, a “bell cow” – since that’s udderly ridiculous).
    – Furthermore, lacking a power RB in the mold of a Gerhart, Gaffney, Taylor, Wilkerson, is at least in part, the source of the OL struggles, to the extent they did struggle. What i saw, was that the creases were usually there for RBs to run thru, but they either missed their cuts, or couldn’t break arm tackles, and consistently left the entire offense in 2nd & long, and 3rd & long situations… That’s what’s “unsustainable” and it is NOT the fault of the QB or the coaches, or anybody for that matter. It just is what it is.
    – I also note that Brenden Austin started vs UCLA at RG over Johnny Caspers. A more important question for you to ask, (in my mind) …is the improved Oline play in that game a function of that change ? Only a close examination of the film can say for sure, and who should i trust to make that evaluation ? George Chen, or Mike Bloomgren ?
    To me, the answer is a no-brainer.
    – You write that after 2 full seasons Hogan is still not capable of being an accurate pocket passer.
    That’s weird, seems to me a QB who completes over 65% of his passes is pretty durn accurate,and is one of the top completion percentages in the nation. So maybe it’s YOUR observations, or your eye-sight that’s inaccurate ?
    – You write that there were few blow-outs with Hogan at QB. Enough already !
    In 2012, coming off the bench he ignited a struggling offense, and turned that game into a 48-0 blow out. The next 5 games were against *RANKED* opponents, one of which included a 35-17 demolition of #15 ranked UCLA. And the following week, he participated in an unprecedented 2nd straight victory over that same Ruin-ed team, a feat that is extremely difficult to accomplish against a quality ranked opponent. In 2013, it was more of the same, including a thorough destruction of a #2 ranked Oregon team, that made those vaunted ducks CRY, literally, by the end of the 3rd qtr. Also part of his resume, were 2 solid, impressive wins against the southern division Pac12 champion Sun Devils, both of which were essentially blow-outs, altho the final scores don’t reflect that fact, and a 55-17 beat down of the Cougars, a team that had beaten USC just a few weeks previously, and an utter vaporization of duh hated Bares, 63-13 !!
    What more do you want, Chen ?
    So what about this year ? — i count 6 solid, unequivocal victories, if not “blow-outs” : Cal by 21 is the 2nd worst defeat they suffered all year, and it helped keep them from a bowl, which i thought was special. Of course you can say 45-0 vs (dog save us!) UCDavis, and 35-0 vs the unarmed Army are to be expected, but that’s not the point, is it ? And don’t forget the steady performances vs WSU and OSU.
    Well what about those 5 losses ? First of all, they were ALL against very competent, RANKED teams, who’re not just gonna roll over n let you beat ’em.. rather, in fact, it was just the opposite with the bulls-eye effect in effect. Stanford, don’t forget, was the 2-time reigning Pac12 Champs, meaning everybody and their granmas, including some very, very talented granmas, were psyched outta their freakin’ minds to cut the Tree down to size.
    Once again, it goes with the territory, but it’s hardly Hogan’s fault.
    In conclusion, i’ll trust David Shaw (whose 4 year record is currently 41-12, for a 77% winning pct), and his staff, to make the best decision next year.
    If you’re worth your weight in ink, or computer chips, you’ll do the same.