Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - September 6, 2013

A fresh start for Hogan

Sophomore QB more comfortable with offense heading into opener

by Rick Eymer

Kevin Hogan's rise to prominence came about almost as suddenly as Stanford's rise as an elite football program.

When Andrew Luck, then a redshirt freshman, sat down with the media for the first time as Stanford's starting quarterback, no one knew much about him, or his football skills.

He won the job from incumbent Tavita Pritchard and had football in the blood thanks to his father, who briefly played in the NFL. Pritchard also had good credentials, with a blood relative also an NFL quarterback.

Josh Nunes opened the season as the Cardinal starting quarterback last year and Hogan wasn't even on the depth chart as he needed time to learn the playbook. Nunes threw 10 touchdown passes in his nine starts and Stanford won seven of his starts.

Hogan rushed for only11 yards on 11 carries and completed one pass for a nine-yard touchdown heading into Stanford's game at Colorado last season. After Nunes struggled early, Cardinal coach David Shaw handed the signal calling to Hogan, who rushed for 48 yards and passed for another 184 yards and a pair of touchdowns in an easy victory.

Just as the Luck era started with little fanfare, so did the Hogan era — with a big difference.

Luck helped Stanford reach the Sun Bowl, a great way to end a seven-year season losing streak, in first year. Hogan helped Stanford reach — and win — the Rose Bowl in his first half-year and finish 12-2.

Hogan completed nearly 72 percent of his passes and threw nine touchdowns to three interceptions. He was named the MVP of the Pac-12 Championship game Four of his five victories were against nationally ranked opponents, including then No. 1 Oregon and UCLA, twice.

Where will Hogan take nationally No. 5-ranked Stanford this year? The possibilities are endless. First up will be San Jose State (1-0) in the Cardinal's season opener on Saturday in Stanford Stadium at 8 p.m.

"I'm ready," said Hogan. "There's a lot of talent around me, and we have a great offensive line. They make it easy."

The fact Hogan immersed himself in the playbook during the summer and is more comfortable in a leadership role makes his job easier, as well.

"I asked him what his top five pass ideas were. He told me those," Shaw said. "Whereas a year ago, I'd ask him for five and he'd have to kind of think, but after all summer going through everything that we've got, he's at a comfort level now."

Hogan will have plenty of support, with a physically talented offensive line that has been rated among the best in the nation, a healthy wide receiving corps and an experienced backfield, despite the absence of Stepfan Taylor, now a rookie with the NFL's Arizona Cardinals.

"He's just more comfortable," Shaw said. "He feels good. I think running the offense in the offseason at the captain's practices with no communication from us, I think, forced him to get a good handle on everything that we're doing. He did all the scripts, he decided what they were doing every day, he put it all together and he did it all summer. I think that helped him just have a good comfort level with everything that he's doing so that when he goes out there and steps in the huddle he's got a command, he's got a better command of our offense."

Hogan was slowly introduced to the playbook last year. During the offseason he had it piled on him. This could be a special year.

The offensive line has three members, left guard David Yankey, right guard Kevin Danser and right tackle Cameron Fleming, listed among the Outland Trophy candidates. Center Kahlil Wilkes has made 13 starts at guard or tackle and sophomore left tackle Andrus Peat was named the Sporting News' top recruit last year.

"This year, I'd be curious how many better tackles there will be in the nation," Shaw said of Peat. "I don't know for a fact so I couldn't say. We haven't had anybody with the athletic ability that he has. There's no ceiling right now. We're talking about special."

Sophomore tight end Luke Kaumatule has yet to catch a pass and is still on the Mackey Award watch list. Junior Charlie Hopkins has yet to make an appearance.

Seniors Anthony Wilkerson and Tyler Gaffney will anchor the backfield with fifth-year senior Ryan Hewitt the tough-minded fullback leading the way.

"We aren't going to name any 'starter' at running back," Shaw said. "It depends on what the first play of the game is. If the first play of the game is best for Ty Montgomery to play running back, he'll play running back. I say that jokingly, but our two lead dogs are going to be 25 and 32, Gaffney and Wilkerson. They're both big, physical guys who run the ball the way we want to run them."

Hewitt turned into a valuable contributor over the final weeks of the season, coinciding with the more mobile Hogan taking over.

"He's vital. You saw when Hogan took over last year, his production went through the roof," Shaw said. "To have a quarterback that can escape the pocket and get on the edge and find Hewitt has been huge. He's so versatile, he's lined up everywhere. For a fullback, as good as you'll find. I don't think he's ever dropped a ball in a game."

Ty Montgomery returns as Stanford's leading receiver while junior Devon Cajuste starts on the other side. He's caught one pass for eight yards and made one start in his career.

"Ty started off his freshman year with speed. We got him on the field and he made plays," Shaw said. "Last year he was banged up and now, at the strength camp he's actually faster than he was his freshman year. You can see more confident, he knows what he's doing, more comfortable, he's healthy."

Defensively, the Cardinal defensive front is stout, athletic and mobile. They are seniors, proven and experienced. Henry Anderson and Ben Gardner start at defensive ends, while David Parry starts a defensive tackle.

Fifth-year seniors Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy anchor one of the top groups of linebackers in the nation, which also includes senior A.J. Tarpley and James Vaughters. There is plenty of depth here, which make this position one of the strengths.

"It's just so great to see Shayne back healthy," Shaw said. "He can do in his mind what he was trying to do last year. It's fun to see him back full steam, and be able to be that guy who doesn't stay blocked and can make tackles from sideline to sideline."

The secondary includes senior free safety Ed Reynolds, who returned three interceptions for touchdowns last year, junior strong safety Jordan Richards and corners Alex Carter and Wayne Lyons. Fifth-year senior Usua Amanam serves as nickel back.

Jordan Williamson returns as kicker, Ben Rhyne begins the season as the starting punter, with Reed Miller the long snapper.

"I don't like depth charts necessarily just because they're not real," Shaw said. "Barry Sanders is going to have a role, Ricky Seale is going to have a role, Remound Wright is going to have a role. We feel we do have depth. We have multiple guys that could or should start. And can start. And play a lot. That's been the biggest thing that's changed in Stanford football in probably the past five years. We have depth. We can rotate guys in. As opposed to having really good front line guys and having no one to back them up. The guys get blown out through a game or throughout a season. We feel like we are at least two deep at just about every position on both sides of the ball."

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