Commit to Offensive Strengths
Kevin Hogan delivered two stretches of brilliance during Stanford's loss at Utah. But for most of the game, Stanford's offense was in a state of disarray. The Cardinal may well need a consistent 60 minutes from their quarterback to beat the Bruins, and that means that Hogan will have to reverse the inconsistent trend of his past two games.
ESPN Stats and Info compiled numbers illustrating some of No. 8's problems in his subpar outings against the Utes and Washington. In these past two games, he's averaged 11 yards per attempt (YPA) when targeting Ty Montgomery, but only 5.3 YPA when throwing to any other Stanford receiver. In contrast, during the Cardinal's 4-0 start, Hogan averaged 8.6 YPA when passing to any player not named Montgomery. His completion rate has also dropped from 60 to 53.3 percent on such passes. Throws to Montgomery, on the other hand, have been complete 64.7 percent of the time.
This significant drop-off in production between Hogan's primary target and his secondary ones suggests that the quarterback has struggled making his progressions in the pocket. This was most apparent when he endured an ugly 5-for-13, 44-yard, two-fumble stretch through the middle of Stanford's loss to Utah. He was good before and after those struggles: Before them, Hogan ripped the Utes' blitz apart by completing 3-of-4 passes for 99 yards. But then Kyle Whittingham called off the blitzing dogs and dropped them into coverage instead, and the ineffective No. 8 (the same one that struggled versus Washington) appeared. The good version of Hogan did not return until Stanford trailed in the fourth quarter. His 7-for-8, 103-yard stretch almost rescued Stanford (fittingly, it featured a big play to a man not named Montgomery: Kodi Whitfield), but a pair of questionable play calls late derailed the Cardinal's efforts.
Saturday's big question, then: Which Kevin Hogan will show up for Stanford? Opposing defenses now seem intent on forcing him to be a traditional quarterback. By correctly anticipating passing situations, they want him to carve up heavy coverage with his arm. Hogan saw his first marked success in that regard down the stretch in Salt Lake City, when he sliced up the Utes for two drives even though they dropped eight men into coverage. Now, the Cardinal's hopes rely on Hogan extending that good play instead of reverting back to his mid-game form. Doing so will require a firm, aggressive commitment to Stanford's talented wide receivers. The age of the tight end may not be over on The Farm, but it's at least temporarily on hold -- unless Davis Dudchock can bring some magic this weekend. And that means Hogan must put Montgomery, Whitfield, and Devon Cajuste in position to pick up the aerial slack. The handcuffs came off late at Rice-Eccles Stadium, and they must stay off for 60 minutes at home this Saturday afternoon.
Beat the Swing Pass
Stanford safety Ed Reynolds told me that the biggest key for Stanford toward defeating the dreaded swing pass rests on the perimeter. He said that Cardinal defensive backs must "set hard edges" by beating wide receiver blocks on the outside. That's exactly what Derek Mason's unit started doing effectively in the second half at Salt Lake City, when it severely curtailed Utah's offensive production after a miserable first half.
UCLA is sure to replicate at least some part of the Utes' gameplan because they actually were the first to use it against Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game last year. If the Cardinal can learn from their first half mistakes last week and stop this part of the Bruins' game, they'll be in much better position to overcome their depth issues on the defensive line and accomplish the next big goal:
Punish Hundley in the Pocket
Though Stanford had a significant advantage over Utah at the line of scrimmage, the Utes were able to neutralize the Cardinal's bruising pass rush by immediately taking the battle away from their offensive line. Quick screen passes effectively made the Utes' wide receivers their offensive linemen instead. So if Stanford's defensive backs are able to snuff out that perimeter attack, Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley will have to resort to playing against the Cardinal the old-fashioned way, and that's where Stanford can earn the leg up in this game.
That's because UCLA surrendered a nation-high 52 sacks last season, 10 of which came at the hands of Stanford. The Bruins are at another potentially serious disadvantage up front: both their right guard (Alex Redmond) and right tackle (Caleb Benenoch) are true freshmen. If Stanford positions itself to exploit that side of the UCLA offensive line, Trent Murphy and co. can feast.
Win on Special Teams
Stanford has enjoyed the best average starting field position in the country while they've also routinely pinned opponents deep behind excellent efforts from kicker Jordan Williamson and punter Ben Rhyne. Special teams play has saved the Cardinal's skin at least once this year (against Washington). With Williamson's status in question because of a leg muscle strain, Conrad Ukropina may have to assume kicking duties on Saturday. It's been a tough week for the Farm Boys, and they're beaten up as it is. This cannot be the game that they lose their special teams advantage. If Williamson is unable to go, Ukropina and his coverage unit must maintain the Cardinal's field position edge against UCLA.
Assorted Nuggets from Practice
- While there's no new word on Williamson's status, reserve Stanford safety Zach Hoffpauir will miss Saturday's game against UCLA after injuring his foot.
- Shaw said that tight end Davis Dudchock "will have the opportunity to play this week" versus UCLA. No. 83 had been buried on the depth chart until Luke Kaumatule made the switch to defensive end, and now he'll get his chance to contribute as Stanford is itching for receiving production from its tight ends. Shaw said that Dudchock has matured and, most importantly, has become a better blocker. "The combination of he and Charlie Hopkins and the production that they've had in practice made us feel better about moving Luke, [because] we feel that position can be taken care of," he said.
- Shaw is very happy about Kaumatule's progression at defensive end and seems to think he will play this Saturday. "He's grown every single day," he said. "He's a high-effort, physical human being. I think he's really excited to play on defense. It's a more natural position. I think he feels great."
- For the time being, Stanford outside linebacker Blake Lueders has essentially moved to defensive end to assuage the Cardinal's injury issues on that line. That means Lueders has joined Kaumatule at the position to create another logjam there, and Shaw smiled when I asked him if the move has motivated the Farm Boys' remaining depth, including Aziz Shittu and Nate Lohn, there. "It's created a lot of competition," he said. "Nobody gets to relax. If you don't perform, you're not going to get the chance to play... Nobody gets to coast through to practice."
- Shaw expressed sadness after the death of Dr. Dan Garza, the Stanford-based
medical director of the San Francisco 49ers who embodied the
university's spirit through his innovative concussion and head
trauma studies that closely collaborated with the Cardinal
football program. He affirmed the importance of Garza's work by emphasizing that it must carry on moving forward. "It's a very sad situation," he said. "We've got a
lot of things in place that have to continue. Ultimately,
it's all about the health of our players and all college
football players in general."
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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