Nov. 2, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. -
Stanford starting quarterback Josh Nunes said he is not bothered by the expanded role given to backup Kevin Hogan.
"No, not at all," Nunes said. "If it helps get the `w,' then it's fine with me."
Hogan's snaps have increased over the past three games from one to five to eight. At Colorado on Saturday, it's expected to expand to 12-20, said coach David Shaw, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football.
"Kevin has played so well in what we've given him that we cannot not give him more," Shaw said.
Hogan, an excellent runner, has provided a dynamic look to the offense, while starter Josh Nunes has had a series of uneven performances.
"Each guy has their things that we're packaging together," Shaw said. "Hopefully, it will make us a more efficient offense."
Shaw said Hogan has earned more time.
"Everything we've given him, he's done exceptionally well, to the point where we've inserted him in critical short-yardage and goal-line plays that you typically don't want to put another quarterback in there for," Shaw said. "Kevin's athletic ability in space is special and we want to make sure we utilize that, and not just as a runner. We have some passes for him too."
Nunes had an excellent performance in a 54-48 overtime victory over Arizona, and led the Cardinal to a comeback victory over USC. But the biggest concern with Nunes is his lack of consistency.
"There are things that Josh has done well that we're pleased with and there are things that Josh has not done well that we're not pleased with," Shaw said. "We are not changing the philosophy as much as saying, `This is the smart thing to do.'"
However, Shaw disputes that Hogan is competing for the starting spot at this point, especially without full command of the playbook.
"He's not all the way there yet," Shaw said. "It's a process. He's getting a good portion of it, but he doesn't have it all down yet. But for what he's been responsible for, he's done exceptionally well.
"That's how we progressively train guys in this offense. You give them a little bit because they have talent on the field, and as they show they can handle that, you give them a little bit more. And that's where we are with Kevin's progression."
"He's not ready to take it all right now, and I'm not ready to take it away from Josh."
However, is there a scenario where Hogan plays so well that he could start this season?
"Anything's possible," Shaw said.
* * *
Stanford's performance in a 24-17 victory over last-place Washington State last week provided conflicting impressions.
"I told the guys, we're not going to apologize for winning and we're not going to apologize for how we win," Shaw said. "But, at the same time, there are things we want to do better, no matter who we're playing against.
As for specific things, the list was similar to other performances, some victories and some losses. But when the team failed in some of the areas it takes the most pride in, that didn't sit well with the Cardinal coaching staff.
"We're built to run the ball, run the clock out and get off the field on defense," Shaw said. "But we allowed them to convert two fourth-downs that gave them a chance to tie, and we didn't convert a third down that would have allowed us to run the clock out."
As for a focus for improvement: "We need to be more efficient in the passing game. It's partially the quarterback and it's partially not the quarterback. And we're addressing all of those."
* * *
Shaw does not believe in private meetings to massage the egos of players who have been replaced.
"As I've said to the team, this is big-time college football," Shaw said. "There's competition everywhere. You come out every day to prove that you deserve to be there.
"Josh has responded great in practice, and so has Kevin. It's not competing for the `starter,' but it's competing for plays. You do a play extremely well in practice, you're going to do it in a game. That goes for receivers, tight ends, offensive linemen, and everyone else."
* * *
It's all about altitude when the Cardinal plays in Boulder, elevation 5,430 feet.
This will be Stanford's first trip there since 1990, and first since the Buffaloes joined the Pac-12 last season.
"You want to run a little bit more in practice, so you go through practice with that shortness of breath that can happen," Shaw said.
An advantage the Cardinal possesses is its depth, especially at linebacker, where the team has played with a regular rotation.
"We're playing 20-22 guys on defense anyway," Shaw said. "If we rotate guys early, we should be OK."
* * *
Colorado is 1-7 and has been outscored by an average of 46-18. For a team like No. 15 Stanford (6-2), is there a lack of motivation?
"Great teams play great all the time," Stanford fifth-year senior linebacker Alex Debniak said. "We were a little disappointed with how we played last week and felt we could've played more of a complete game. This week, we're more motivated than anything to live up to our expectations and play up to that high standard.
"I think we have all the motivation we could really use this week."
* * *
Shaw was a true freshman suiting up for his first game when Stanford traveled to Colorado in 1990, a 21-17 loss to a team that would win the Big 8, edge Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl, and finish ranked No. 1.
Shaw was brought on the trip and dressed as insurance with top receiver Ed McCaffery out with an injury.
"I was the first guy out of the locker room," Shaw said. "It was my first college game and I ran out and the first thing I saw was Ralphie (the live buffalo mascot) coming full speed, with those people barely hanging on. The rest of the team is trying to come out and I'm trying to go back in. And they're pushing me out. When he got about 50 feet away, they turned and put her back in her cage."
The game ended with controversy. Stanford's defense believed it stopped the Buffaloes short on a fourth-down play on what would be the winning drive, but fell victim to a bad spot.
"It was not a first down," Shaw said. "It never should have got to the point where it was a touchdown."
Colorado's Eric Bienemy would go on to score on a fourth-down run from the one-yard line with 12 seconds left, on a play that also was close. Several television camera angles were not definitive.
"In my opinion," Stanford coach Dennis Green said after the game, "If we were at home, they don't get that call."
Looking past the controversy, Shaw reflected, "There was a collective sense of shock, because we played above ourselves in that game. We were a team that was still growing."
Indeed, Stanford went 5-6 that year, and two years later would finish 10-3 with a No. 9 ranking.
* * *
Stanford's talented freshmen offensive linemen continue to develop and ease into greater responsibility. Left tackle Andrus Peat received his most playing time of the season last week and was set to continue that trend before injuring a finger in practice Monday. The injury may keep him out of the Colorado game.
However, the first of the group to earn a start was Joshua Garnett, another heralded recruit who started at left guard.
There were circumstances behind the move. Shaw plays down "starting" assignments, as Garnett was in for just the first play before being substituted. He was the right man for the initial play call, a run call to the left.
The coaches felt that regular starter Khalil Wilkes would have been evenly matched with his defender on the play, but liked the fact that Garnett, at 320 pounds, created a physical mismatch.
Stepfan Taylor ran for five yards on the play.
* * *
Sophomore receiver Ty Montgomery, who has been out for the past three games with a leg injury, could return this week, Shaw said.
"He's felt as good as he's felt," Shaw said. "So, we're very hopeful."
* * *
Stanford defensive backs have been caught in a few situations where they have tight coverage, but have been called for pass interference, or failed to prevent a catch in a crucial situation. The Cardinal allowed Washington State receivers to make enough big plays to make the game closer than it could have been.
"We have to be able to locate the ball when it's in the air," Shaw said. "We've got to be able to get our hands on those balls and get those balls out of the guys' hands. They're tough plays, they're hard plays, but we've got to make more of those plays than we give up."
One alternative might be to train the defensive backs not to look back at all and, rather, wait for the receiver's hands to go up and attempt to knock the ball out.
"That gets dicey," Shaw said. "When you do that, you don't have a chance to intercept it, and when he brings the ball down, you don't have a chance to pop it out. That's another option that I've seen people try. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't."
* * *
The Pac-12 now has six teams among the AP Top 25, the most from the conference in years.
"It's more than pride," Shaw said. "I'm glad to see the respect given to our conference because of how tough our conference is. We're playing the toughest conference that's out there from top to bottom. It's nice to see that national recognition."
* * *
One of the strengths of the Cardinal team is its outside linebackers, with players like All-American Chase Thomas and All-America candidate Trent Murphy. So, what are Stanford's outside linebackers really like?
"Not only are we a group of dynamic athletes, but a group of dynamic personalities," Debniak said. "Very strong personalities. Chase, and Murph, and me and Kevin Anderson, we're very `out there.' We like to play with a lot of energy.
"I like to keep it really loud and energetic. I'm more of an introvert outside of football, but being out on the field is really an opportunity for me to really unleash the inner beast, so to speak, and to really be somebody else. And that's the way I really enjoy playing the game.
"I think Chase and Murph keep a little more to themselves. It definitely shows in the way they play. Chase plays with a huge chip on his shoulder and Murph is a huge physical specimen.
"It's an absolute riot, we have a great time."
* * *
Debniak sees similarities to his development and that of fellow outside linebacker Kevin Anderson, a sophomore from Palo Alto High School.
"To be honest, he reminds me a lot of myself. I struggled a great deal trying to understand the fundamentals of our defense and how it works. I always felt I had the athletic ability. However, fundamentally, I had to learn how to work into that defense.
"When I look at Kevin Anderson, that guy has one of the best jumps on the line of scrimmage. He's quick and explosive and has all the athletic ability necessary to be a real key contributor to our defense for years to come. And the coaches have been giving him a lot of opportunities this year because with that tenacious attitude and aggressiveness, you can't afford to not afford to put him out on the field.
"But he's still at that stage where he's still trying to understand the fundamentals and know exactly what he's doing. Our coaching staff does an excellent job of really bringing you along in the program. So, the future is going to be very bright at the outside linebacker spot. Noor Davis is another example of someone who is really coming along in this system so far.
"And then there are guys like Murph and Chase, who from the get-go clicked. They've always been really good fundamental football players and coaches never really had to bring them along. They're just that good."
* * *
Debniak is one of the few players to sport a neck roll under his uniform.
"I struggled with a lot of stingers early in my career," he said. "It's something that I grew very comfortable wearing. I took it off a little bit last year and kind of kept having stinger problems. It's just something that fits and feels comfortable and it protects my neck the best as possible.
Plus, it looks good?
"Oh yeah. Without a doubt. You got me."
* * *
Stanford junior offensive guard Dillon Bonnell has taken over the "U-back" position, a pure-blocking tight end similar to the role of lineman James McGillicuddy, who played the "Kraken" position on the Orange Bowl team of 2010.
Bonnell discards his regular No. 75 for No. 96 and lines up as a pure-blocking tight end in power-running situations.
"This is my first time playing something other than offensive line," said Bonnell, from Highlands Ranch, Colo., about an hour from Boulder. "I really enjoy it because I still get to hit people.
"It's a very difficult challenge, a lot more than offensive line because there's a lot more thinking that you have to do. There's a lot more freedom with your blocks and a lot more quick thinking than thinking before the play.
"After the first few games, I've gotten a lot more comfortable with it. I've really just enjoyed getting a head start and running at people. That's a lot of fun, especially when you get to throw your weight around at smaller guys. I've had a couple of strong safeties try to take me down one-on-one and it didn't go too well for them."
He hasn't had a ball thrown to him yet. And if he did, would he catch it?
"I have good enough hands for them to be confident to throw the ball to me," Bonnell insisted. "I like to think of myself as more than one-dimensional."
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics