The Stanford Cardinal find themselves in a position to make a play for the Pac 12 title, but have been looking to improve an offense that has been inconsistent at best. Head coach David Shaw opened the quarterback competition back up before last week’s game against the Colorado Buffaloes looking to find some kind of spark for his offense, and he may have found it. Shaw saw enough last week to name redshirt freshman Kevin Hogan the new starting quarterback.
Josh Nunes originally won the starting job in fall camp over Brett Nottingham, who was the backup quarterback last season. Hogan was a distant third, but showed enough of his skills for Shaw to talk up the young quarterback’s skills during the final weeks of preseason practice. While most people dismissed that as a coaching ploy to apply pressure to the front-runners, Shaw’s praise was more than just talk.
Hogan soon supplanted Nottingham as the primary backup quarterback and started to find the field more and more. Initially, Hogan was used as a read-option quarterback in wildcat-type packages during games. Fullback Ryan Hewitt described Hogan as Stanford’s version of “Tim Tebow.”
Up until now, Shaw had been steadfast in his decision to start Nunes, despite the physical skills Hogan was showing the coaching staff. “It wasn’t close,” Shaw said about the quarterback competition coming out of fall camp. Hogan was still learning the offense, which he still only has about 80 percent of at his disposal, and Nottingham hadn’t shown coaches anything more than a powerful right arm.
Nunes guided the Cardinal through eight games, leading them a 6-2 record (5-1 Pac 12) with a spectacular second half performance in an upset win over the then-No. 2 USC Trojans and rallied the Cardinal from a two-touchdown deficit to win 54-48 in overtime against the Arizona Wildcats. But there were also long stretches where he looked confused and overwhelmed, including in road losses to the Washington Huskies and Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
It was that inconsistency that led Shaw to try out Hogan last week in Boulder. The freshman showed off his strong arm and quick feet in relief of Nunes after he failed to get an offensive point in the first quarter. Hogan meticulously picked apart the Colorado defense, leading four straight Cardinal touchdown drives in the second quarter. He would play for just two quarters, but finished the day with 184 yards passing with a pair of touchdowns and 48 yards rushing.
Shaw didn’t have to think too long on the decision, calling Hogan on Monday to tell him he would be Stanford’s new starting quarterback. “He’s ready,” Shaw said on Tuesday on why he made the choice to switch to Hogan. “There are times when a guy just gets it.”
The young Hogan will have a tall task ahead of him for his first start. No. 14 Stanford hosts the No. 11 Oregon State Beavers on Saturday in what is essentially a Pac 12 North semifinal. The winner of this game will have the opportunity to knock off the Oregon Ducks and claim the division title and head to the Pac 12 Championship game with a Rose Bowl berth on the line. So, no pressure or anything.
The Beavers will pose a bigger challenge to Hogan than Colorado did last week. Oregon State boasts one of the stingiest run defenses in the Pac 12 with a defensive line that can put pressure on the passer. The Beavers will also be getting cornerback Jordan Poyer back from injury, who leads the conference in interceptions and is a leading candidate for the Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year.
But don’t expect Kevin Hogan to sweat any of that. Teammates and coaches note that the 20-year-old has an unflappable demeanor where he never gets too up or too down. It’s a personality that many say is strikingly similar to another Cardinal quarterback — Andrew Luck.
If that is just the first of many comparisons between Hogan and Luck, the Stanford Cardinal are going to be just fine under center.