STANFORD, Calif. — There has been a blissful tranquility around the Stanford campus this week. It’s normal, another week in the middle of another quarter in the Bay Area. Yet there also is a sense of optimism floating around on the Farm.
Ahead of the football team’s biggest test of the season, at No. 1 Oregon on Saturday, there is no worry about becoming the latest victim in the Ducks’ march to the BCS national championship game. Instead, there is a lobster dinner awaiting the Cardinal next Monday if they can pull off the upset and steal away the Pac-12 North.
“We’ve had good practices so far. I think the team is pretty confident,” redshirt freshman quarterback Kevin Hogan said. “We still have our ultimate goal in front of us which is exciting.”
Everyone on the team enters the upcoming Pac-12 North battle with the mindset that it will not be about stopping the high-flying Ducks offense — which is leading the conference in five major statistical categories and is top in the country in scoring — it’s about slowing them down. Twenty-yard runs have to be limited to five or six.
The Cardinal offense has to do its part by playing keepaway and limiting turnovers in the latest installment of a series that hasn’t been terribly close the past two meetings thanks to turnovers and mistakes.
“Their time of possession doesn’t mean anything,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “But we still have to keep the ball away from their offense and in order to do that we have to run the ball and be very efficient. We have to convert 3rd downs. When we can do that and move the ball, then we have to put the ball in the end zone. You’re not going to kick field goals and beat this team.”
Shaw has turned the reins of the offense over to Hogan in part to jump-start a stagnant offense that was struggling to finish drives earlier in the season. Just a year ago, Hogan’s job was to run the scout team and emulate Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas. This season he’ll be on the field looking to capture his second win as a starter.
The move to having Hogan under center full-time has been in the works for a few weeks, as coaches had gradually been increasing his snaps with a special package that utilized his speed and mobility. His first college pass came on his birthday against rival Cal, as he bootlegged and found tight end Levine Toilolo in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. Against Colorado, Hogan replaced Josh Nunes and promptly led six straight scoring drives.
There is no looking back for Stanford now, who will have an inexperienced but confident field general when they head up to what could be a rainy, cold and loud Autzen Stadium.
[Related: Watch a preview of Stanford at Oregon]
“He can get outside the pocket, he can throw the ball deep, he can throw it short or he can pull it down and run,” Shaw said.
Hogan was not in the competition to replace top draft pick Andrew Luck at quarterback during spring practice, with plenty of ground to make up between him, Nunes and Brett Nottingham. He worked hard during the summer, showed up at fall camp in top shape physically and picked up the weekly game plans as well as the others to turn the quarterback derby into a three-man race before Nunes was ultimately tapped as the starter.
The redshirt freshman remained undeterred however.
“He exudes confidence,” said Shaw of his quarterback. “He’s extremely competitive and has a fire in him. He’s also very unselfish and doesn’t want a lot of attention. He’s on a team with really good players and would rather they get the attention. He just wants to play quarterback.”
The understated Hogan doesn’t mind that his first road start will come against a team with an attacking defense and Pac-12 and national title hopes. He’s settling into his new role taking the first snap and ready to lead the team to that nice Monday dinner.
“It’s nice just being out there and able to play,” he said. “Being with the guys and playing football in a big game, it’s a nice challenge.”
While it may be nice for the quarterback to simply turn it on and play come 5 o’clock, it’s a challenge that has kept his coach up late at night breaking down film from the past several years looking to find the right balance of plays to give Stanford a chance.
“We have to play at a high level on every play because that’s what Oregon does,” Shaw said. “All of our guys need to know our jobs extremely well and be able to do them in a very hostile environment.
“Hopefully it’s our best game of the season.”
Having Hogan step up and lead Stanford to do just that is one reason why the team is quietly confident about their chances to upset top-ranked Oregon and steal away the Pac-12 North on Saturday.
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