The Stanford Cardinal secured back-to-back Pac-12 Championships last week and punched their ticket to Pasadena for another trip to the Rose Bowl Game this January. There, they will have to go up against the Big Ten Champion Michigan State Spartans and their stout defense. Stanford has been at their best this season when using their physical running game between the tackles to grind out wins. Against the Spartans, however, that strategy will be difficult to implement, meaning quarterback Kevin Hogan has to be a bigger part of the offensive attack.
Throughout the season, Stanford’s offense has been predicated on the running game. Tyler Gaffney emerged quickly this season as a feature back for the Cardinal, averaging 125.08 yards per game this year at a bruising clip of 5.30 yards per carry with a Pac-12 leading 20 rushing touchdowns. The Spartans, however, are built to stop the run this season and lead the nation in rush defense, allowing just 80.77 yards per game with just seven rushing touchdowns allowed all season long.
That means the running lanes between the tackles will be difficult to find in this Rose Bowl Game. While the Cardinal have a strong offensive line built to move defensive fronts off the line of scrimmage, they’ll have their hands full with a Michigan State front that has dominated some excellent running teams in the Big Ten this season. That puts the pressure on the Stanford passing game to be a little more involved with Hogan loosening up the box with his arm, making throws down the field.
Hogan has been up and down when asked to carry the offense with the passing attack this season, throwing for 2,492 yards with 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions. In Stanford’s two losses against the Utah Utes and USC Trojans, however, Hogan completed less than 60 percent of his passes and threw just one touchdown to two interceptions combined in the two games. The production from Hogan when he throws the ball has been sporadic at best. In this game, however, he will need to be at his best in order to move the Cardinal offense against a tough Spartans’ defense.
David Shaw will undoubtedly remain committed to the running game that got Stanford to this point. But if he wants to get a second-straight Rose Bowl win, Shaw will need Kevin Hogan to let it rip in the passing game.