Kevin Hogan has not been perfect. He's struggled -- but improved -- with his deep ball. It's unclear if the Cardinal's delay of game penalties have been his fault, but publicly, these issues fall on a quarterback's shoulders. Those faults aside, Hogan has played extremely well. He's leading the Pac-12 in passer efficiency. During the preseason, I wrote that maintaining third down and red zone effectiveness -- the two facets Stanford severely lacked when Josh Nunes was under center -- would be crucial. Hogan has done that and more: His third down and red zone efficiency numbers are comparable to Andrew Luck's of 2010 and 2011, while his average per attempt (9.6) is currently higher than Luck's career high (9.0). Hogan is again using his feet to gobble up critical yardage.
On paper, the Cardinal's schedule intensifies in October. It's time to see if Hogan can continue settling in against tougher competition. He certainly has the weapons to do it.
||Yds Per Play
||3rd Down %
||Red Zone Eff.
||Red Zone TD %
|Tavita Pritchard (08)
|Andrew Luck (09)
|Andrew Luck (10)||40.3||6.7
|Andrew Luck (11)
|Josh Nunes (12)
|Kevin Hogan (12)||29||5.56||45%||100%||73%||71.7%||10*
|Kevin Hogan (13)
So far, Stanford's big boys have given up only three sacks, and blitz-happy Arizona State has already come and gone. Andrew Luck's 2010 line surrendered only six sacks all season, so this Cardinal unit is not performing at that ridiculously high of a level yet. But the play up front is significantly better than it was at this point last season. Of course, the fact that Stanford has a legitimate downfield passing threat now helps. David Yankey's presence at left guard has been a significant upgrade, as has the Cardinal's big-time muscle boost at the Ogre position (Josh Garnett and Johnny Caspers offer 20-pound upgrades there over last season). Khalil Wilkes' 10 pounds of extra muscle have benefited him immensely the center position -- he consistently knocked ASU's Will Sutton back. The line is doing its part in allowing the offense to churn out 5.32 yards per rushing attempt, the best figure of the Harbaugh-Shaw era (including the Toby Gerhart years).
The first two games of the season gave the impression that 2013 would be The Tyler Gaffney Show. Since then, David Shaw has unveiled more of the "running back by committee" approach that he promised during the offseason. Gaffney's burst coming back from baseball has been excellent. He effectively remedied some of his Arizona State issues (two fumbles, miss pass blocking assignment) in Seattle. Anthony Wilkerson has been harder to tackle than at any other point during his career, while Remound Wright and Barry Sanders have both delivered their own big play offerings.
At fullback, Ryan Hewitt hasn't fully re-integrated himself into the mix after suffering a knee bruise in August. Lee Ward has filled in nicely (check out his bruising perimeter blocks, which are coming in handy given the Cardinal's new affinity for bubble screen action), but Stanford can certainly use Hewitt's tight end-like pass-catching ability out of the backfield.
The Farm Boys' have absorbed the loss of Stepfan Taylor well. If the offensive backfield can eliminate some of the expected early-season cobwebs, they'll have emerged into an elite unit. So far, 5.32 yards per carry is nothing to scoff at, though pass protection and ball security haven't been flawless.
|Yards Per Carry
||% Runs > 10 Yards
||% Runs > 20 Yards
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Stanford's tight end production has emigrated to the wide receiver position in 2013. Perhaps it's fitting, then, that 6-foot-4, 230-pound Devon Cajuste has been the Cardinal's most impactful new weapon on the outside. When No. 89's 10 catches, 244 yards, and three touchdowns are combined with Ty Montgomery's resurrection on the other side, Stanford's rebirth at the receiving position is staggering. During his nightmare 2012 campaign, Montgomery finished with 26 catches for 212 yards and no touchdowns. Now healthy and fully electric, Montgomery is on pace to finish 2013 with 70 catches for 1,145 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Michael Rector has caught only three passes, but he's averaging nearly 40 yards per reception and two of those have been touchdowns. It's safe to say that he'll be targeted more often as the season progresses. Kodi Whitfield and Kelsey Young may also have to become more involved in the passing game as opponents turn more attention to Cajuste and Montgomery.
Tight ends have caught only three passes for Stanford in the season's first month, but it's hard to punish the receivers for that in this grading, especially with Hewitt still limited in his productivity. This is simply, as predicted, a receiver-oriented Cardinal offense. The tight ends are bigger than before, and they are used primarily to block (do expect Kyle Murphy to be targeted again, though). Physical wideouts have again done a good job sealing the perimeter on runs (watch Cajuste plow his way upfield whenever Young comes on the end around), but they're an excellent focal point of Stanford's passing game now.
||% Pass Attempts > 15 Yards
||% Pass Attempts > 25 Yards
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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