With No. 16 Stanford (4-1, 3-0 Pac-12) coming off its best game of the season and its offense riding a streak of three 40+ point performances, the team has to feel pretty confident about where it stands. The upcoming bye week bodes well for a team that needs rest all around, but perhaps no one needs the break more so than quarterback Kevin Hogan. Even without having fully recovered from the ankle injury he sustained against USC, Hogan was ridiculously efficient against Arizona, completing 17-of-19 passes for 217 yards and 2 touchdowns. Equipped with essentially the same offense as last year, one has to wonder what exactly is different. What has changed for Kevin Hogan, and how does he sustain that? We asked Daily sports writers Sandip Srinivas, Sanjay Srinivas and Do-Hyoung Park to offer their thoughts.
Sandip Srinivas: For three quarters on Saturday, Kevin Hogan picked apart the Arizona secondary. I hadn’t seen a performance from Hogan as dominant as that one. The combination of sheer precision, defensive reads and movement in the pocket was astounding. It seems that Hogan’s finally found out how to put it all together, and for me, it comes down to one thing: Hogan has never been surrounded by this many offensive weapons.
That isn’t meant to short-sell Hogan’s teammates in previous years. Complaining about the likes of Ty Montgomery, Zach Ertz, Tyler Gaffney and company sounds foolish. However, this season, Hogan’s supporting cast is truly exceptional. We’ve seen flashes of brilliance from the Stanford offense, from Christian McCaffrey’s 200-yard performance to the flea flicker that helped Stanford find the end zone for the first time this season. The Arizona game merely represented how the talented offense is coming together and how it’s all running through Hogan.
I, for one, wouldn’t want to be a defensive coordinator who had to deal with containing McCaffrey and Barry Sanders, finding a way to shut down Austin Hooper and Devon Cajuste and managing to not give up a 60-yard touchdown pass to Michael Rector. The task seems nearly impossible. But for the Stanford offense, everyone around Hogan is making him that much better, and he has learned how to use what he’s been given.
Sanjay Srinivas: This season, Kevin Hogan has simultaneously been more aggressive (increasing his passing yards per attempt from 7.93 last season to 9.63 this season) and more efficient (increasing both his completion percentage and passer rating). These seemingly contradictory improvements become even more stark over Stanford’s four-game winning streak, in which the Cardinal have averaged over 42 points per game.
The biggest reason for these improvements has been a move away from sideline throws and toward intermediate routes over the middle. Hogan has been particularly deadly on slants, curls and other in-breaking routes, making intelligent reads and confident throws. His proficiency on these throws allows him to take high-percentage chances down the field, allowing the Cardinal offense to increase its firepower without sacrificing efficiency.
However, credit for the renaissance of Stanford’s intermediate passing game doesn’t solely belong to Hogan. Austin Hooper is a budding superstar at tight end, a position that has long been a cornerstone of the Stanford offense and is directly responsible for throws over the middle of the field. Receivers Michael Rector and Francis Owusu have taken large steps toward becoming more complete receivers, complementing their speed with better route-running and ball skills.
Credit must also go to a much-maligned aspect of the Cardinal’s football program: David Shaw’s play-calling. During Stanford’s recent stretch of play, Shaw has given Hogan more freedom to take chances and make plays than he had at any point over the last four seasons. Finally given free reign, and complemented by talent all over the field, Hogan has delivered with his best football in a Stanford uniform.
Do-Hyoung Park: Yeah, I’ll agree with what the Srinivii discussed above to a certain extent, but in my mind, the reason for Stanford’s success this season isn’t anything Hogan has been doing differently; it’s been the revitalization of the offensive line, which is where the Cardinal offense lives and dies.
We’ve long since established that Hogan won’t win games if the burden to do so is put on his arm and on the passing game. My favorite Kevin Hogan stat remains that Stanford has never won a game in which he’s attempted more than 30 passes. But this season, he’s never been put in a position to have to do so, because the offensive line is carving up opposing defensive fronts and springing Christian McCaffrey, Remound Wright and Barry Sanders for easy gains.
When Stanford’s running game works, opposing linebackers and safeties need to be cheating towards the line of scrimmage in order to stop big gains from happening, which in turn forces opposing defenses to be more aggressive and potentially leave those gaps open for Stanford’s receivers to sneak into. It also helps that Hogan hasn’t missed open targets often this season (I can actually only remember one such instance in the Cardinal’s five games so far). Credit to the offensive line for rejuvenating Stanford’s running game, balancing the offense and giving Hogan lots of time to work within the pocket with great pass protection.
Contact Sandip Srinivas at sandips ‘at’ stanford.edu, Sanjay Srinivas at sanjay_srinivas ‘at’ stanford.edu and Do-Hyoung Park at dhpark ‘at’ stanford.edu.