David Shaw opened his Tuesday media meeting asserting Kevin Hogan's position on top of the depth chart, which now lists Nunes as the back-up and Brett Nottingham as the third stringer -- a departure from previous weeks when only two quarterbacks were listed on the sheet. He emphasized that competition for playing time will continue at the spot.
"Josh knows it's not time to go into the tank," Shaw said. "Brett Nottingham knows it's not time to go into the tank."
But Hogan, who completed 18-of-23 passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns in the Cardinal's 48-0 thrashing of Colorado last Saturday, will be the one in the spotlight now. He was also Stanford's leading rusher in that game, racking up 55 yards on 7 carries. That performance, which came in relief of Nunes after two ineffective series against the nation's worst defense, solidified Hogan's surge up the depth chart.
The change came to fruition after Nunes struggled mightily through three quarters of the season, sputtering to a conference-low 52.8 percent completion percentage. His only excellent statistical line came against Arizona, the country's 118th-ranked defense. When the Stanford offense was held out of the end zone in the team's two narrow losses to Washington and Notre Dame, Nunes' poor numbers at the quarterback position were the primary focus of grave concern.
A Move That Came Too Late?
Shaw defended the timing of the switch, which has been criticized as coming late in the face of no. 6's struggles. He thanked Nunes, crediting him as integral part of the 21-14 victory over USC in which the Cardinal defense terrorized Matt Barkley.
"I don't care about stats," he said. "He was outstanding in that game."
Shaw repeated that, up until now, the redshirt junior was the only Stanford quarterback with a command of the team's playbook that was suitable enough to be entrusted the starter position.
"It wasn't close," he said of the initial decision to start Nunes over two months ago.
That perspective differs from the one presented during the run-up to the selection, when Nunes and Nottingham were reported to be in a virtual deadlock for the starting position. Shaw did not name a starter until about a week before the August 31 season opener against San Jose State. Now, it's apparent that Hogan has made marked progress since then that has completely altered the dynamics of Stanford's quarterback situation.
"Culminating with the last two weeks of practice, Kevin has shown us a lot," Shaw said. "Most importantly, he's shown us he can handle the running game."
Physical Mastery Coincides with Improved Playcalling
Perhaps more critically, Hogan has shown the ability to consistently complete the short and intermediate throws that are critical in the context of Stanford's ground-and-pound running scheme. Nunes struggled mightily with these passes, causing the Cardinal to surrender otherwise easy gains and valuable yards after the catch when his throws dragged targets into the turf or when he missed the check-down man altogether. These blunders caused many to question the rationale by which Nunes continued to start: how important was a quarterback's mental grasp of the playbook if his physical play wasn't utilizing that cerebral mastery - at least when the bright lights came on?
It's possible that Stanford's fixation on avoiding "negative plays" -- one of Andrew Luck's hallmark skills -- took necessary focus off of netting positive ones. A heavier emphasis was placed on selection instead of actual execution until it became clear that no. 6 was not showing necessary improvement.
Ironically, Stanford was remarkably conservative in its play selection with Nunes at the helm despite his superior grasp of the offense. This seemed to change when Hogan unveiled his dual threat arsenal and cannon arm at Colorado. Aside from dialing up a Jamal-Rashad Patterson reverse and tight end play-action from the goal line, the Cardinal moved the ball behind an NFL-caliber deep out completion from the opposite hash mark to Drew Terrell and benefited immensely from Hogan's mobility.
Now, with the starting job in hand, the soft-spoken redshirt freshman (called the "most interesting man" by Patterson because of his quiet, steady demeanor) must continue his success against a ball-hawking Oregon State defense that has picked off 14 passes on the season. Setting up the run also won't be easy, as the Beavers boast the nation's fifth-ranked defense against the ground game. Shaw said that Hogan will go to work with about 80 percent of the Stanford playbook mastered.
He refused to officially name Nunes the back-up.
"I've never said all year who's number two [at quarterback]," he said. "I'm not going to start now."
David Lombardi covers Stanford sports for The Bootleg and FOX Sports NEXT. He can also be heard on San Francisco's 95.7 The Game. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com. Follow him on Twitter: @davidmlombardi.
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