Many people, myself included, had little faith in Stanford’s ability to remain in the BCS conversation after losing Andrew Luck and Jim Harbaugh in successive years. Don’t look now, but the Cardinal are still in the Rose Bowl conversation, even if they fall to Oregon tomorrow night. Head Coach David Shaw deserves tons of credit for taking up Jim Harbaugh’s installed system, and succeeding with it.
When you lose one of the best quarterbacks ever to come out of college (who is also literally an extension of your offensive coordinator), the transition period between signal callers can be rocky, and it was for Josh Nunes. Aside from his magical scrambles that stunned Southern Cal in week three, Nunes was a very sporadic passer, often struggling with accuracy. Changing quarterbacks midseason is difficult for any team, but for some reason Stanford’s backup quarterback, Kevin Hogan, has enhanced the offense despite getting his first real reps just two weeks ago.
While Hogan won’t be making Manning-esque check downs like Luck did, and won’t be making the same throws that Luck did, Hogan’s skill set is relatively comparable to Luck’s; a big-bodied pocket passer with the ability to make plays with his feet.
While the Power play is Stanford’s bread and butter, David Shaw went to Hogan’s running ability right from the get go against Oregon State:
While it may look a lot different from Oregon’s speed option play, Stanford is running a variation of the spread-staple speed option called the lead, or load option. Hogan will be running an option play towards the bottom of the screen, while watching the cornerback (red circle) as his option read.
When the ball is snapped, Stanford gets a great push along the offensive line as Hogan, Hewitt (the fullback), and Taylor (the running back) start their lead option. Hewitt may look like a pitch man, but his only job is to lead block for the running back should the defense bite on the quarterback keeping the ball.
The Oregon State corner makes the right decision, and takes the path for the running back. I’m calling it the right decision because if Hogan pitches the ball, Taylor has a lead blocker on the last guy between him and the endzone. It’s a tricky start to the game for the Beavers. Oregon’s defense is fast, but navigating through the massive Stanford O-Line will be difficult, especially if the Ducks have to stack the box to slow down the Cardinal downhill running game.
Freshmen quarterbacks typically need a little help from their offensive coordinators to get the offense rolling (Mariota excluded, of course). One of the best ways to “spoon-feed” a quarterback is to get him on a play-action rollout, where he only has one or two reads on a passing play. Against OSU, extended play action rollouts allowed Hogan to succeed throughout the game.
After a full day of power plays, the Beavers are conditioned to react to the pulling guard, and the backfield’s off-tackle path.
When the ball is snapped, you can see all eight of the Beaver defenders walking up to fill in gaps to stop the power play. The only give away comes on the weak side of the play, where the tight end starts to head up field for a pass. The backfield still looks like a power play to the defense, though, and they continue their pursuit of the running back.
Hogan carries out the play action, and rolls out on a naked bootleg. The fullback, Hewitt, cuts back across the formation, and leaks out into the flat, where the only defender was faked out by the play action.
Hogan collects himself and tosses the ball out into the flat, where Hewitt has plenty of green in front of him.
Much of Southern Cal’s success against Oregon’s defense came from the Barkley’s ability to chip away at the defense, then unleash a rainbow to one of his targets. Hogan will be chipping away at Oregon’s defense in tandem with Stepfan Taylor’s power running style, and the combination will probably make it look like Oregon’s defense is overmatched again. But in the third quarter, Stanford might find itself down four possessions. Nick Allioti will have plenty of creative coverages dialed up for Hogan, and Autzen Stadium will not make his first true road start an easy one.