Stanford’s last trip to Rose Bowl Stadium was not in the capacity the Cardinal had been accustomed the last few years. But if quarterback Kevin Hogan’s performance in an unseasonably warm, late-November tilt with UCLA was any indication for 2015, Stanford’s last trip to the Rose Bowl could be a springboard for its next.
Hogan is the most-tenured quarterback in the Pac-12 ahead of the 2015 season, debuting ostensibly as Andrew Luck’s successor midway into the 2012 campaign. Since taking the reins of the Cardinal offense, Hogan is the winner of two conference championships, and has played in a pair of Rose Bowl Games.
He’s also arguably the conference’s most overlooked quarterback, taking a backseat to peers like USC’s Cody Kessler and Cal’s Jared Goff. Kessler is a Heisman Trophy candidate, while Goff generates considerable NFL draft buzz.
Not that Hogan’s 2014 ledger commands much attention. He entered the regular-season finale at UCLA with just 15 touchdown passes to eight interceptions, his pedestrian stat line a snapshot of the offensive woes that plagued Stanford throughout a five-loss campaign.
But back in Pasadena, playing before an audience of Southern California sunshine, the San Gabriel Mountains and some 85,000 fans anxious to see UCLA clinch the Pac-12 South, Hogan took a backseat to no one.
He closed the afternoon 16-of-19 for 234 yards passing with two touchdowns and ran for another 46 yards on seven carries. With Hogan throwing darts to Devon Cajuste, deep lobs on the move to tight end Austin Hooper and feeding playmakers in space, then-UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich had no answer.
Stanford rolled, 31-10, for the second of three wins by 21 or more points to close the season. In that span, Hogan also put together games of 15-of-20 passing with 46 rushing yards and a score against Cal; and 14-of-20 with 50 rushing yards in the bowl rout of Maryland.
“The way he played at the end of the year, when he’s smooth and relaxed and in rhythm, he’s exciting to watch,” Stanford head coach David Shaw said.
Such performances give gravity to Shaw's assessment of Hogan's ceiling — a ceiling he said he "[does not] want to put a cap on,” beyond saying: "He can be as good as anybody playing college football right now.”
Hogan has teased such ability a number of times in his almost three years as Cardinal starter. In the 2013 Pac-12 Championship Game, he went 12-of-18 for 277 yards and carried for 24 yards.
Both the 2013 conference title game and last season’s three-game win-streak capper state the obvious: a consistent quarterback has consistent playmakers around him.
In 2013, it was workhorse running back Tyler Gaffney. He carried for 133 yards and three touchdowns in that championship game, a fitting cap to a stellar season.
But Stanford’s struggles finding a suitable replacement for Gaffney as the primary ball carrier hindered a scheme that’s predicated on balance, if not primary reliance, on a power-run style.
Down the stretch last season, the emergence of sophomore-to-be Christian McCaffrey added a much-needed dynamic of explosion that Shaw says will be a pillar of the Cardinal offense going into 2015.
Both the wide receiving corps and the offensive line are loaded with experience. Four starters return up front to protect Hogan, which the line did exceedingly well against UCLA without allowing a sack.
Ty Montgomery’s departure for the NFL might take away some star power, but Hogan got a head start on life without his favorite target – Montgomery missed the last two games of 2014. Francis Owusu and Hooper were beneficiaries of extra targets, and both figure to be primary weapons along with Cajuste and Michael Rector.
Stanford has the pieces for Hogan to shine enough to attract interest from the NFL, Shaw says. And, more importantly for the Cardinal, they look capable of contending for another game in Rose Bowl Stadium.