Nov. 8, 2012
STANFORD, Calif. -
As the holder for Jordan Williamson, Stanford punter Daniel Zychlinski has had a unique perspective on the evolution of the junior kicker.
At the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2, Williamson missed three field-goal tries, including the potential winning 35-yarder as time expired in regulation, and a 43-yard try in overtime in a 41-38 loss to Oklahoma State in Glendale, Ariz.
The failures left Williamson devastated and many wondered how he would respond. This season, he has made 12 of 19 field-goal tries and is 30 of 31 on extra points.
"For him to go through some growing pains early, I think, was good for him," Zychlinski said. "Now he has a foundation to build upon. Going through that hardened him mentally to withstand any failure in the future. He knows what it feels like and he knows how it is to go through it."
In the aftermath of the Fiesta Bowl loss, Zychlinski said teammates were there for support.
"We're a tight knit group, and Jordan and I are especially close," Zychlinski said. "Me being the senior and having some experience, I've kind of taken him under my wing and guided him through the experience so he wasn't alone. That's a very lonely spot to be. But he bounced back and he's doing very well right now."
Zychlinski says Williamson is the best college kicker he's ever seen. Asked to define why, Zychlinski pointed to Williamson's technique.
"His leg strength and leg speed are phenomenal," Zychlinski said. "But the one thing you can distinguish between a good kicker and a great kicker is the height of the ball. When he hits the ball, the ball just gets up immediately."
* * *
After previous speculation about a possible quarterback move, the actual switch was almost anticlimactic in its obviousness.
"As everybody knows, Kevin Hogan
will start at quarterback for us," said David Shaw
, Stanford's Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, at his weekly Tuesday press conference.
Why is this the right time?
"Because he's ready," Shaw said.
Hogan's off-the-bench performance in Stanford's 48-0 rout at Colorado last week provided little doubt that the redshirt freshman would usurp Josh Nunes as the Cardinal's starter for Saturday's regular-season finale against Oregon State on Saturday (noon) at Stanford Stadium. After Stanford struggled in its first two possessions with Nunes, Hogan led the Cardinal on five consecutive touchdown drives, and then a field goal, in barely over a half of work.
"He still has a lot to learn," Shaw said. "But he gives us something special there. Kevin will be starter and we're excited to move forward."
Hogan recalled the moment he received the news from Shaw.
"He called me in and told me, `Keep doing what you're doing,'" Hogan said. "'Don't try to do too much.'"
Some questions were raised about the timing of the switch, which comes with Stanford at 7-2, ranked No. 14 and in control of its own destiny for a Pac-12 title. Should it have been made earlier, perhaps out of training camp, or should it be made at all with Stanford winning consistently?
To the latter point, linebacker Jarek Lancaster said, "I think our team's mature enough to understand it's not about a personal decision, it's about us winning games. Coach Shaw obviously thinks Kevin's our best bet this week and he made the decision and we're mature enough to go with it."
At the beginning of the season, Nunes was the only real choice.
"He was the only quarterback we had at the time who could handle our gameplan and execute our gameplan," Shaw said. "Where we were at that point, we had one quarterback that could handle all the things - and he handled it the best. And, honestly, it wasn't close. That was the decision we made at the time. That's what you do as a coach, you evaluate where you are."
Hogan forced Shaw's hand through his production in practice and in games. Shaw's winning formula is run the ball, play strong defense, and be "functional" in the passing game, not a hero. That means consistency and efficiency, and that's where Hogan has impressed. He completed 18 of 23 passes for 184 yards against Colorado and threw two touchdowns. He also ran for 48 yards on seven carries.
"There's no misconception that we're going to take the entire gameplan and throw it on a redshirt freshman's shoulders," Shaw said. "But he's shown that he can handle enough of our gameplan that we don't have to change what we do."
Shaw said he didn't anticipate Hogan's early success, but not because he didn't think Hogan wasn't capable.
"I think you get in trouble as a coach when you hope and wish things to happen," Shaw said. "You have to push them all and evaluate what happens. And when the guys do what you want them to do, you reward them with more playing time. And when they don't, you keep coaching them and pushing them. And you play the guys who handle it.
"This is Year Two for the kid. Athletically, he had already showed us a lot. But lately, it hasn't been just athletically, it's been being able to handle protection, handle the running game, the protections and the play kills. He's done a good job."
As for Nunes, Shaw ensured the senior that "the competition hasn't stopped." And Nunes has been supportive to Hogan throughout what could have been a tense process.
"One of the great things about this team is we're really close," Hogan said. "Josh has been a great friend and a great teammate. He's been very supportive and has asked how he can help."
* * *
So, just who is Hogan?
He came to Stanford from McLean, Va., and went to high school at Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C., just six blocks from the Capitol, and the alma mater of Johnson Bademosi, a former Stanford cornerback who is now a rookie with the NFL's Cleveland Browns.
Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, who has ties to that region, was the first from Stanford to spot him. He found that Hogan had everything the staff was looking for - size, toughness, grades, test scores. But what set him apart was ... mud.
"He played almost his entire season in mud," Shaw said. "It seemed like it rained every game. And the weather never bothered him.
"A lot of guys would slip and fall, but it seemed like he never did. He would make cuts, make people miss, play safety and drive and tackle guys. You always like to see that. The game never changes under any conditions. The oldtimers would say he's a mudder."
Said Hogan, "One of the things about the D.C. area is you never really know what kind of weather you're going to get. Sometimes, you may be playing in mud, or pouring rain. I got to see all the different kinds of football weather you can play in. You've got to get used to that kind of thing."
Hogan's final choices included schools that had the best academic reputations in the BCS: Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Virginia.
"I wasn't really planning on coming out to visit, but my parents said it was a great school," he said. "I came out and within an hour, I was convinced this was the place I wanted to be. The academics, the athletics, there's no comparison in the country."
* * *
A phenomenon in college football, as opposed to the pros, is the ability to see instant progress. Shaw said this transformation can be seen through the subtleties of a player's posture.
"You see it when their shoulders drop," Shaw said. "They're relaxed, comfortable, confident, aggressive. You never know in college football when that's going to happen. They come in as freshmen and that's the way they are. But in college football, there is a time when a guy just gets it."
Shaw said that's been the case with Hogan and receiver Jamal-Rashad Patterson. It was the same thing in the past with receiver Ryan Whalen, a former walk-on now in the NFL.
"That's when they get it," Shaw said. "As a coach you know this kid is ready."
* * *
One of the biggest challenges Oregon State presents is that the Beavers (7-1, 5-1) don't make mistakes.
"They are the quintessential Mike Riley team," Shaw said of the veteran Beavers coach. "They're efficient. They're not out of position. You don't see them giving up a whole bunch of big plays. Defensively, they run to the ball, they don't break contain. They don't make mistakes.
"I told my team yesterday, `You're going to have to beat a team like this. They are not going to beat themselves.'"
* * *
Shaw summarized his description of freshman starting cornerback Alex Carter in eight words (12 syllables):
"Quick, fast, explosive, aggressive, tough, great ball skills."
* * *
Safety Ed Reynolds has five interceptions and has returned three for touchdowns. He is one short of the Pac-12 record for interception returns for touchdowns in a single season. Reynolds had No. 3 on a 52-yarder to open the scoring against Colorado.
"There are some things you can't teach," Shaw said. "You can't teach instincts, you can't teach anticipation. You teach guys, scheme and you tell them where to go. But Ed does a great job of reading the quarterback's eyes and understanding route concepts. He had seen that formation and knew what was coming, and knew not to go too fast. But once the QB locks in and begins that throwing motion, Ed just takes off.
"Those are football players making plays better athletes can't make. He has a feel for the game to make those plays."
* * *
Stepfan Taylor had 10 carries for 44 yards against Colorado. The few number of carries - for a player averaging 22.9 - was in parts design and the result of the score.
"He's been carrying the ball a lot," Shaw said. "And we don't run a whole bunch of sweeps, we run between the tackles. We wanted to get the other guys in the field some time and give Stepfan a rest."
* * *
Hogan didn't anticipate playing alongside Andrew Luck, now starring for the Indianapolis Colts.
"I actually was committed before I realized he was going to come back," Hogan said. "When I found out he was going to return, it just made me really happy to learn from a great player like Andrew. It made my acclimation to college football that much easier."
What did he learn from the two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up?
"Just how to manage everything," Hogan said. "He's a great leader, a manager of the offense. He manages out plays, he manages the pocket. He does all the right things."
* * *
Lancaster on his expectations for Hogan: "The boy can sling it. I don't see that changing. If anything he's got more confidence now that he's playing in the big games. I expect a lot in this game."
* * *
Stanford is approaching this game as it will all the others from here on out - against OSU, Oregon, and UCLA to close the regular season.
"We've definitely put ourselves in position to actually get to our goal," Lancaster said of winning the Pac-12 championship. "Every game is like a playoff. If we win these games, it's going to be a statement. They're necessities."
* * *
Stanford has rotated its two inside linebacker spots among Lancaster, Shayne Skov, A.J. Tarpley, and James Vaughters.
How have the players dealt with the system?
"All the depth we have is definitely a blessing and a curse," Lancaster said. "It's a blessing because every time you're on the field you're completely fresh and you can go all out. Because as soon as you're tired, tap your helmet and we'll get the next guy in. So there's never a fatigue factor.
"But we're at a level of football where we're extremely competitive guys. We want to play as much as we can. And with four very talented backers, we've got a lot of options for the coaches. Of course we're not going to get as many reps as we think we deserve or want, but it's fun to play with those guys."
* * *
Zychlinski on why he loves his position: "I can go in there and change the game - quietly."
* * *
For much of his collegiate career, Zychlinski waged in a battle for playing time with David Green. This year, the position is his own, and Zychlinski, who is averaging 42.4 yards per punt, has thrived. Zychlinski has 13 punts of more than 50 yards and has had 15 downed inside the 20. Now, the fifth-year senior from Tampa, who is on pace to earn his master's in psychology, has NFL aspirations.
"It wasn't what I expected coming in as a freshman," said Zychlinski, of failing to secure a starting job after arriving as the No. 2 punting recruit in the nation. "Looking back, the best thing for me was having to learn that I had to go take the job and I had to compete every day. And the biggest thing I learned was that consistency is an every minute thing.
"From the moment you wake up until the moment you go to sleep, you have to ingrain consistency in your life if you want it to translate into the field. It took me a while to realize and learn that, but I'm grateful for the experience."
* * *
The specialists have a nickname for themselves, "The Snipers."
The tag comes from former coach Jim Harbaugh, who once told Zychlinski, "You know, a specialist is a lot like a sniper. They don't get any credit, but their job is very important."
Said Zychlinski, "In no way are we comparing ourselves to the military, but we take pride in what we do, and we do it with precision."
* * *
If there's a chance of rain on gameday, Stanford goes into wet-ball drills. That includes quarterbacks throwing passes with balls that have been submerged in water. It also creates interesting training techniques for freshman long snapper Reed Miller, who practices snapping the ball while being sprayed in the face with a hose.
"We have to be ready for any conditions," Zychlinski said.
But Hogan, the mudder from D.C., is never fazed.
"Whenever it rains out here," he scoffed, "it's nothing."
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics