State of Stanford: Quarterback Intrigue

Just in case the paltry production of the Stanford offense put anyone to sleep the past three weeks, David Shaw's Tuesday announcement should wake some followers up.

In an expected-yet-surprising-yet-necessary twist to an already odd season, Shaw broke away from his strict one-quarterback policy to announce that sophomore Kevin Hogan would cut into the playing time of struggling junior starter Josh Nunes. Shaw estimated that Hogan would take 12-20 snaps in the Cardinal's Saturday tilt at Colorado.

"Hogan's not ready to take it all right now, and I'm not ready to take it all away from [Nunes]," he said.

Credit to Shaw for ensuring that competition for playing time applies to all positions. Recently, A.J. Tarpley has supplanted James Vaughters for the starting spot at inside linebacker, while true freshman Alex Carter has leapfrogged junior Barry Browning on the depth chart at one of the cornerback positions. Freshman tackle Andrus Peat also earned himself a half of playing time against the Cougars, but Shaw's rhetoric up until Tuesday made it sound like playing time at the quarterback position was secure regardless of performance.

Not anymore.

"This is big time college football. There is competition everywhere," he said. "[Nunes] has responded great in practice. So has [Hogan]."

While there will not be a starting quarterback change this week, the depth chart is certainly evolving. Nunes' 52.6 completion percentage has made him the Pac-12's least accurate passer. Stanford's meager 256-yard offensive output against Washington State, a bad football team surrendering 462 yards per game, made changes mandatory in Shaw's eyes after five of the Cardinal's seven other games also offered meager aerial production.

"We need to be more efficient in the passing game," said Shaw, who's often repeated that a 60 percent completion percentage is his desired standard for a quarterback in his offense. "It's partially the quarterback, it's partially not the quarterback."

So, what was born as the "Hogan package" in a one-play appearance at Seattle's CenturyLink Field on September 27 has grown into a potentially permanent quarterback change in the Cardinal's quest to find a stable successor to Andrew Luck.

Up until now, Hogan's few appearances have been limited to a Wildcat-like formation for the Stanford offense, an independent package separate from the general passing offense operated by Nunes. In fact, sophomore Brett Nottingham is still listed behind No. 6 on the depth chart, while Hogan's name is nowhere to be found on the sheet. But it now appears that Nottingham, supposedly neck-and-neck with Nunes in an offseason quarterback battle that lasted almost all the way up to the season opener against San Jose State, is the odd man out.

"[Brett's] been doing fine [in practice]," was Shaw's only offering regarding Nottingham upon prompt from this reporter.

Hogan's expanded role will almost certainly force him to meld with Stanford's existing offensive scheme and exhibit his downfield passing game to a greater extent. So far, his 4.7 40-yard dash speed and imposing size have made him almost exclusively a running option. Hogan has thrown only one pass in his collegiate career, but it was a pretty nine-yard touchdown strike on the run to tight end Levine Toilolo. No. 8's high school highlight tape showcases a cannon arm, but the jury is still out on that part of his repertoire, particularly after his inaccurate throws in Stanford's last open scrimmage paled in comparison to the work of Nunes and Nottingham.

But the Stanford coaching staff obviously feels that Hogan has made marked progress in his development over the past nine weeks, enough to see significant playing time before the player ahead of him on the depth chart and enough to make a much-needed contribution to loosening up opposing defenses.

Two-thirds of the way through the 2012 season, Hogan presents an intriguing wild-card addition to the Stanford offense just two weeks before greater explosiveness from the unit will be direly needed in Eugene. Fasten your seatbelts. It will be fascinating to see how this move, and this position, evolves.

Injury Report
Stanford wide receiver Ty Montgomery, who has been out since the fourth quarter of the October 6 Arizona game with a leg injury, is questionable this week.

"He's feeling as good as he's felt so we're feeling very hopeful," Shaw said.

Meanwhile, Peat hurt his finger in Monday's practice and is not expected to play at Colorado. That means that Khalil Wilkes, who sat out most of the second half against Washington State to give the freshman some needed playing time, will likely be back at left guard in Boulder, while David Yankey will shift back to left tackle.

David Lombardi covers Stanford sports for The Bootleg and FOX Sports NEXT. He was the Cardinal football KZSU play-by-play voice for several years. He can also be heard on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game. Check him out at Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.

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