GoMightyCard: Stanford just finished the most perplexing season in recent history. Entering the season, I felt like this Stanford team would feature the best offense we’d seen since Andrew Luck moved on. In 2012 there were no wide receivers. In 2013, there were no tight ends, but it looked like Kevin Hogan would have more weapons at his disposal than he ever had. One of those weapons, Ty Montgomery, was one of the most talented players Stanford had ever had at the position, so the future looked bright. It didn’t work out that way, largely because of two assumptions I made. First, I believed the loss of four starting offensive linemen wouldn’t be a big deal. In retrospect that seems foolish, but I felt that the experience those four new linemen had from previous seasons in different offensive packages would translate well. Individually, I still believe they are skilled enough to do the job, but I underestimated the importance of experience playing as a group of five. Second — and this is tied to the offensive line issue — I didn’t think it would matter that much who was carrying the ball. After Toby Gerhart, there was Stepfan Taylor. After Taylor, there was Tyler Gaffney. I just assumed that someone would step into the position and keep the tradition going. I thought that even a rotating group of backs would be fine. It wasn’t. I won’t necessarily remember this season as one of missed opportunities, though. Even though the Cardinal could easily have won each of those three close losses, I kind of feel like the 7-5 record accurately represents who this team has been over the past three months.
TB: What’s your wishlist for the 2015 offseason? New hires on the offensive side, or leave things the way they are? A recruiting class heavy on one position in particular? The Pac-12 Network finally landing on DirecTV? Anything I’m missing?
GMC: Towards the end of the season I found myself wishing a new offensive coordinator could come in to offer a fresh perspective on offense. I found myself looking at Alabama, and the changes they’ve made. I’m not saying I want Lane Kiffin walking the sidelines, but I found it interesting that a coach as successful as Nick Saban — and one who had publicly decried the hurry-up offense, even lobbying that rules be created to curb its speed — was willing to change what he had always done and embrace something new. Stanford’s offense has changed slightly over the past five years, but there have been no dramatic adjustments, either to what opposing teams are doing defensively or to the changing personnel on offense. The last two games were interesting, though, as the offense looked like what I had been hoping for last summer.
One question kept tickling the back of my brain during the UCLA game: Why doesn’t it matter that Ty Montgomery isn’t playing? Montgomery’s talents were wasted on offense this year, and sometimes his presence seemed to cripple the game plan. It was as if option A was get the ball to Montgomery because he’s our best player, and option B was run an effective offense. What I’m about to say will sound ridiculous, but I’ve thought about it a lot. I think the offense would’ve been dramatically better if Montgomery had simply been the starting tailback all season. One thing’s for sure — it couldn’t have been worse.
TB: A lot of guys have some offseason decisions to make about their respective futures. Andrus Peat, Devon Cajuste and Alex Carter will be playing on Sundays, but each have another year of eligibility. Zach Hoffpauir may choose baseball if he’s drafted high enough. Wayne Lyons – who missed all but two games of his freshman season with an injury -- applied for a fifth year of eligibility. Who’s staying? Who’s outta here?
GMC: I think the key figure here will be Andrus Peat. He would obviously be the highest draft pick, but I’m not sure he would go as high as we might’ve expected a year ago. Entering the season, I thought he would probably leave, but I think there’s a chance he stays. Even though our marquee recruits definitely view Stanford as an avenue to the NFL, I think it’s still true that every single player who chooses the Farm does so with the potential of a Stanford degree in mind. There have obviously been a handful of players who have left a year of eligibility on the table as they’ve declared for the NFL Draft, but all of those early departures did so with their degrees in hand. Andrus Peat would be the first of this era to leave without a degree. Another factor to consider with Peat, and also with Alex Carter, is that their fathers played in the NFL. While it might seem counterintuitive, I think former NFL players, knowing that the league is a meat grinder, would actually be more likely to encourage their sons to stay in school and earn their degrees. [Ed: Financial needs may also be less pressing.] All that being said, I’d guess Peat is somewhere north of 50-50 to return, and I’d be fairly surprised if any of the others leave early. As for Wayne Lyons, the coaches have indicated that they expect a positive response from the NCAA regarding his medical redshirt petition, so I think we’ll see him back in the cardinal and white as well.
TB: Is the offensive line coming around, or do the last two games not provide enough of evidence? Who among that group, other than Peat, has the potential to join the other all-time greats we’ve seen since 2009?
GMC: The strangest thing about the offensive line in 2014 was how undisciplined the unit was. No one could’ve expected anything approaching what we saw in 2013 (only two holding penalties all season long), but it was disconcerting to see so many mental mistakes derailing drives. Whether it was false starts, chop blocking, or illegal hands to the face, the penalties all spoke to a lack of focus and discipline, something I never would’ve expected from a Stanford team. The good news is that those things can be cleaned up. If Andrus Peat returns, Kevin Hogan will be in the enviable position of playing behind an offensive line that returns fully intact, a rarity in college football. I understand that we should probably rip up all the recruiting rankings once the players arrive on campus, but I still believe that these five players are amongst the most talented offensive linemen in college football. After struggling through this year together, I have no doubt that they will emerge next season as the dominant unit that we all expected they’d be.
TB: How do Kevin Hogan’s skills compare to other Pac-12 signal-callers? What areas has he improved on the most since 2012? Where does he need the most improvement? Has he hit his “ceiling,” or is the best season for him yet to come?
GMC: It’s amazing to think about the ups and downs of Kevin Hogan’s Stanford career. When he came out of nowhere — and remember, he really did come out of nowhere, people didn’t think of him then as they do now about Ryan Burns and Keller Chryst — and led the Cardinal to wins in five straight starts to close out the 2012 season, the sky was the limit. He had beaten the Ducks in Oregon, he was the MVP of the Pac-12 Championship Game, and he was the winning quarterback in the Rose Bowl. The 2013 season ended with another Pac-12 championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl, but there was a sense that while Hogan had clearly been the difference maker in 2012, the team had carried him in 2013. As this season progressed and the offense struggled, there were calls for Keller Chryst. Does the UCLA game — inarguably the best game of Hogan’s career — validate his starting position, or was it just a fluke? I think he’s still the best option going forward for the Cardinal. (I don’t for a second believe that he’s going anywhere.) I’d love it if he could break his habit of staring down his primary receiver, and I think it’s strange that he suddenly lost his touch on the deep ball this season, but there’s enough that he does well to make up for those deficiencies. The secret truth is that most college quarterbacks stare down their primary receivers, and most college quarterbacks occasionally miss wide-open receivers. The memories of Andrew Luck are still too fresh for Stanford fans to objectively evaluate a quarterback, and Hogan’s reputation suffers for it. Certainly he isn’t as good as Marcus Mariota, but if we just look at the UCLA game, who looked better, Hogan or Brett Hundley? It wouldn’t surprise me if Hogan becomes one of the better quarterbacks in the conference next season, certainly good enough for the Cardinal to contend for a conference championship.
TB: With David Parry, Henry Anderson and Blake Lueders all fifth-year seniors, is the defensive line going to be talked about next year the way the 2014 offensive line was, or are there reinforcements ready to step in and contribute? On the bench, do you see anyone emerging next season the way Blake Martinez and Peter Kalambayi did in 2014?
GMC: The defensive line will certainly be an area to watch next season. The good news is that at least there’s some experience returning. Aziz Shittu was a starter before his injury, and the expectation is that he’ll be fully healthy next season. Also, true freshman nose tackle Harrison Phillips got lots of playing time while David Parry was injured, and that experience will help. Assuming he puts on weight and adds strength over the offseason, I’m sure he’ll play well. Jordan Watkins and Nate Lohn will also have to step up, but the player I’m most looking forward to seeing is Solomon Thomas. He redshirted this season, but he could be the most highly-regarded defensive line recruit ever to sign with Stanford. The biggest concern, then, is that the defensive line could be severely undersized, a huge problem in a 3-4 scheme. We’ll see. But here’s more good news — the linebacking unit and defensive backfield should again be strengths, with both groups amongst the best in the conference.
TB: How long have you been a fan? What was your first game you went to in person? Where does your fandom of Stanford football rank with other teams you follow?
GMC: I’ve been a Stanford fan since I arrived on campus as a freshman in the fall of 1987. According to the dates given in the Stanford media guide and my knowledge of when I arrived for orientation, the first game I attended was a 49-0 bloodbath at the hands of UCLA. [TB: The loss knocked the Cardinal to 0-4 on the season and forced Brian Johnson, Stanford’s third starting quarterback of the season, into action.] Not surprisingly, I have absolutely no memory of that. The first game I remember, though, was the next home game, a 13-10 win over the Ducks (Even back then, Oregon had a Stanford problem.) What I remember most about that game was that our entire freshman dorm (Rinconada) decorated painter’s hats and sat together in the stands as part of a spirit contest. As we walked back from the game we stopped for traffic before crossing Campus Drive and I found myself standing shoulder to shoulder with then-President Donald Kennedy. My painters cap said “F*&^ the Ducks,” and remember wondering if perhaps I should take it off; I left it on.
I live in the L.A. area now, so I typically only get to one game a year, either USC or UCLA, plus the two recent Rose Bowls. Even though I’m a huge Yankee fan, I realized a few years ago that my love of Stanford football has exceeded all my other devotions. Because, really, what else is there?
(For further reading of Hank and Mark's insights, check out this entertaining exchange we had last month with California Golden Blogs.)
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!