Hogan not yet ready to stop and smell the roses
LOS ANGELES - Stanford’s run to the roses has been a memorable one for players, coaches and a hungry fan base that has waited 13 years to get back to Pasadena on New Year’s Day. Just days away from taking the field, many on the team have used the down time the bowl offers to reflect on the season leading up to the biggest and final game of the 2012 campaign.
Starting quarterback Kevin Hogan hasn’t had the same luxury.
Sure, Hogan devoured ribs at Thursday's Lawry’s Beef Bowl and has been able to relax in his room in downtown Los Angeles when not at practice. But the soft-spoken signal-caller is trying to be as oblivious as he can to the trappings of playing in the most prestigious BCS game around.
“Maybe it will hit me after the game, but for right now it’s just another game,” Hogan said at Friday's daily press conference. “Wisconsin is a good team, so we’re going to treat it like a normal week as much as we can.”
[Related video: Hogan compared to Luck at Friday's press conference]
Stanford has won seven straight to close the regular season since an overtime loss to Notre Dame was decided by inches, tied for the second longest winning streak in all of the FBS. Much of the Cardinal's resurgence correlated with the insertion of the redshirt freshman into the offense in doses before he was finally tapped to start at quarterback in a win against Oregon State in early November.
Hogan supplanted Josh Nunes and promptly ran off a 4-0 record as a starter. The victories came against ranked teams every time and included an upset of then-No. 1 Oregon on the road that put Stanford in the driver’s seat for the Pac-12 title.
There is a number of reasons why Stanford is primed for a win in the Rose Bowl for the first time in generations - its stellar defense, a tough offensive line and stud tailback Stepfan Taylor, to name a few. But there’s no mistaking that the team is where it is thanks to a newfound offense that is nearly as fresh-faced as its quarterback.
[Related video: Ertz says the Rose Bowl 'means a bit more to us']
“The bottom line is you have to make plays in big games and Josh made a ton of them for us,” offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. “I asked myself at times, ‘Man, if we had to the ability to run more bootlegs and open up the offense against a team like Notre Dame, would the result be different?’
“Kevin came into a best-case scenario for a young quarterback. He watched Josh and got a sense of what our identity was as an offense before he became a starter. He understood how important it was for our quarterback to manage the offense.”
Hogan was the odd man out during fall camp, but coaches were impressed with his physical tools and made sure he was still getting a look for the job. Head coach David Shaw even made it a point to say that the race to replace Andrew Luck was a three-man contest before eventually tapping Nunes to be the guy. Hogan doubled his efforts once the season started, preparing to take over as Stanford suffered through a tough offensive stretch against Washington, Notre Dame, Cal and Washington State.
“I’d say my major weakness was the playbook,” Hogan said of what held him back at the start of the season. “I had to get into it as much as I can. I watched more film so I knew what to do when I got out there. I think that helped my development in learning the playbook.”
[Related video: Lawry's Beef Bowl highlights]
The playbook the Cardinal is prepping for the Badgers in Pasadena looks much different from earlier in the year. There’s more play action as the running game has ramped up, a focus on going to tight ends more - the quarterback’s best friends according to Hamilton - and a pocket that has taken advantage of Hogan’s mobility.
“When Kevin started, it added an extra dimension to the offense,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “We knew we had something special in Kevin and it kind of evolved throughout the year.”
“We had to find a way to not screw it up for our defense early in the year until we found out who we were as an offense,” Hamilton added. “I just think that it took us a little time for our guys up front to develop that chemistry and continuity. Once they kind of got grounded, we were able to run the football and felt good about running the football against anybody.”
Not as much is placed on Hogan’s shoulders as was on his predecessor from last season, Andrew Luck. At the same time, the staff (as well as the offensive line) have noted that the two share a number of similarities and the offense is much more like it has been in the past than earlier in 2012.
“He never gets too high with the highs or too low with the lows and that’s allowed him to make some big plays in some big games,” Hamilton said of his young pupil.
Now he just needs a few more big plays out of Hogan so the youngster can stop and smell the roses.