Dec. 28, 2012
LOS ANGELES - The evolution of the quarterback position at Stanford has been the story of its Rose Bowl season. That it had a happy ending, with sophomore Kevin Hogan taking over mid-season and leading the Cardinal to the Pac-12 championship, was fortuitous and partly by design.
When Hogan was a freshman, "He had one job," offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. "And that was to watch Andrew."
While Andrew Luck was completing perhaps the finest career of any quarterback in Stanford history, and before he would be selected No. 1 in the NFL draft, Hogan observed.
"Sit in the back of the room," Hamilton instructed Hogan. "Be seen and not heard, and emulate everything that Andrew Luck does."
Hogan's lessons included how to manage his time, how to interact in meetings, how to study gameplans, how to prepare on gameday. All from the best in the collegiate game.
"I really think it helped Kevin in having that experience of being around Andrew," Hamilton said. "He still has a ways to go, but his poise is what makes him a special player."
Hogan still receives a text from Luck after each game and has talked to his mentor by phone a couple of times this season.
"He's the ultimate manager of the football game," Hogan said. "That's the biggest thing I learned, whether it's managing bad plays, the pocket, or the protections. Watching him in the huddle, he had no problem telling his best friends, `Be quiet.'"
Hogan admits that he wasn't ready to begin the season as the starter, after competing with Josh Nunes and Brett Nottingham in preseason camp. He didn't know the offense well enough. Meanwhile, it was Nunes who dealt with the pressure of being the guy who followed Luck.
"I imagine Josh was under a ton of pressure, but it was my job to take some of the pressure off the quarterback position," Hamilton said. "We needed our best player (running back Stepfan Taylor) to control games by running the football."
Stanford was 6-2 when Hogan received his first significant action of the season, leading Stanford to four consecutive first-half touchdown drives after coming off the bench in what would be a 48-0 victory at Colorado. Hogan started the following week and went 4-0 against ranked teams to complete the conference season.
"I just remember having a lot of fun," Hogan said of that Colorado game. "We were moving the ball, it felt really good. The thought crossed my mind during the game that I can do this. It gave me a little bit of confidence."
Not winning the starting job in camp was hard, Hogan said, but in retrospect the eight games that Nunes started were crucial to Hogan's growth.
"Those weeks allowed me to develop," Hogan said. "I was still learning the offense, learning the playbook, still learning how to manage the game."
Senior receiver Drew Terrell, who caught the tying 26-yard touchdown pass from Hogan in the fourth quarter of the Pac-12 Championship Game against UCLA, said he has seen the progression of his quarterback.
"Each day we've seen him progress and feel more comfortable with what he's doing," Terrell said. "He's a guy who goes out on gameday, and just goes out and plays football. That's something that a lot of us admire about him. He plays like you're in the backyard and you're eight years old. The game comes to him naturally."
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Hamilton, speaking at a press conference for offensive players and coaches at the LA Hotel Downtown on Thursday, provided an appropriate description of Stanford's offensive philosophy.
"I probably cost Andrew Luck the Heisman when it's all said and done, just because it's important for us to control the line of scrimmage and wear down our opponents.
"We're like the old heavyweight fighters. We want the 15-round fight. We want to wear them down early in the fight, throwing the body punches, and ultimately give us the chance to hit the big play."
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Senior tight end Zach Ertz remarked on Joshua Garnett's performance at the Beef Bowl at Lawry's Prime Rib in Beverly Hills on Wednesday. Garnett ate a team-high seven 24-ounce hunks of prime rib. The next-highest was believed to be four.
"He wasn't even phased at the end," Ertz said. "He said he could have eaten at least three more pieces. He said it could have easily been 10, but he ran out of time."
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Why are Stanford's tight ends so successful?
"They're the quarterback's best friend," Hamilton said. "We've got to find ways to get our playmakers the ball and on third down in the red zone. We have to find a way to create matchups that are in our favor. Tight ends give us an opportunity to create those matchups."
As for Ertz, a unanimous All-American and the Cardinal's top pass-catching threat:
"He's 6-5, 250," Hamilton said, "and he can come out of his break as well as any receiver in the country."
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Regarding the adjustments that the Stanford offense had to make going into this season, Hamilton said:
"Replacing Andrew Luck, that was tough. But replacing (linemen) Jonathan Martin, David DeCastro and (tight end) Coby Fleener ... replacing those guys up front is always a little tougher than replacing a skill player.
"That was a tremendous challenge as an offensive staff to come up with a way to not screw it up for our defense early in the year until we found out who we were as an offense."
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Stanford's all-time leading rusher, Stepfan Taylor, compares favorably in style and substance to some NFL stars, said Hamilton, a former NFL assistant coach.
"I had the good fortune with working with (Hall of Famer) Curtis Martin," Hamilton said. "Curtis' temperament, personality, and approach to the game were, in my opinion, like Stepfan's. Right now, Stepfan is a poor man's Ray Rice - a utility back that's physical and can do it all.
"The one aspect that is taken for granted when you look at good running backs is their ability to play without the ball. We can leave Stepfan on the field at all times - first, second, and third down. He's not a situational player."
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The Cardinal offense should return largely intact next year, but one position in particular that must be filled is Taylor's spot at running back.
Hamilton anticipates filling the running back position by committee.
"It will be similar to the 2010 season," Hamilton said, after the departure of Toby Gerhart. "Stepfan was splitting reps with Tyler Gaffney, Jeremy Stewart and Anthony Wilkerson. We'll back to the run by committee approach until somebody establishes themselves."
Another spot to fill will be Sam Schwartzstein's center position. Early contenders include current starting left guard Khalil Wilkes, sophomore Kevin Reihner, freshman Graham Shuler, and possibly even starting right guard Kevin Danser, who could play a fifth season.
"It's always tough to replace your center, and that continuity and trust the quarterbacks develop with their center," Hamilton said. "In our offense in particular, we put so much on our center to make the calls when we check plays at the line of scrimmage. So, replacing Sammy will be a tall task for us.
"The center really is an extension of our quarterback and our coaches. So, training our next center is going to be just as tough as training our next quarterback."
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Stanford brands itself as a power running team, and there is no greater example than when the Cardinal brings in its jumbo packages, with seven and even eight linemen in on particular plays.
The alignments have another effect. They provide young players with game action.
"It really helps our guys to gain that experience early in their career and become productive players for us," Hamilton said. "If you have an opportunity to play early in your career, then when it comes time to be an every-down player, it's not too big for you. That really helps us.
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Hogan, from the Washington, D.C., metro area, has a weakness for crab cakes - good crab cakes that is. He found a place in the Bay Area that served them, but was not impressed.
"They didn't satisfy," Hogan said. "I told myself never again until I'm back in D.C."
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Terrell on Hogan:
"He's made some incredible plays," Terrell said. "Think of that play against Oregon State when he flipped it out to Stepfan (a 40-yard touchdown play that drew Stanford close in a 27-23 comeback victory). It was an incredible play, one of the best plays of our season. His ability to keep that play alive helped us get a win in that game."
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Hogan is known for his running ability, and Terrell confirms that the quarterback is fast. But speed is relative.
Asked if Hogan's among the fastest players on the team, Terrell was respectful. "He's definitely the fastest of the quarterbacks."
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The Rose Bowl Game matchup between Stanford and Wisconsin is billed as a game pitting strength against strength - two of the nation's best power-running teams. However, it's quite possible that the game will be decided by a player outside of standouts such as Taylor, Stanford tight end Zach Ertz, and Wisconsin running back Montee Ball.
"The focus of course is going to be on the running game and the power attacks by both teams," Terrell said. "I'm the kind of guy who's waiting for the opportunity that presents itself, and I'll take advantage of them.
"The receiving corps is going to have to make some big plays, and special teams. I think we're prepared for that. I feel like I've been playing in the shadows my whole career here, so it's not something that's new to me."
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One challenge for Stanford's offensive line is dealing with Wisconsin's alignment of six upright defenders at the line of scrimmage.
"It's pretty complicated," left tackle David Yankey said. "The biggest thing is communication, knowing who you have, who's coming, and who's not, which is pretty hard with their walk-around defense. We've been looking at it for a while, and we're excited to see what they bring."
But the biggest challenge for the Cardinal offense:
"Having to beat them head to head straight up," Yankey said. "They're not a high-percentage blitz team. Their safety plays hard in the run game and they practice against an offense similar to ours in training camp. I don't think there will be too much deception.
"They know what we're going to do and we know what they're going to do. Who's going to do it better?"
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics