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Know Your Foe: Stanford

Oct. 15 -- We talked with Mark DeVaughn from the Bootleg about the upcoming matchup with Stanford...

Q: Why do you think Kevin Hogan has been able to find such consistency this season, especially over the last four games, after being more up-and-down the last three seasons?

A: If there’s such a thing as living up to your accomplishments, it’s occurred with Kevin Hogan. While he started two Rose Bowls and won a Pac-12 title game MVP, he’s evolved and progressed far beyond levels seen throughout his first three seasons. He owns a visible command and confidence. He’s so much more comfortable in the pocket now. I’d compare it to how other four-year starters like Jake Plummer and Kyle Boller grew in their senior seasons, or the levels Cade McNown achieved as a junior. He steers the ship, instead of simply joining the ride alongside a commanding defense and a power running back.

Q: What's been the biggest change for Stanford between the rough opening six quarters of the season and the last 3.5 games?

A: It’s the offensive line. They’ve final lived up to the legacy they inherited last year, when four of the current five – Johnny Caspers, Josh Garnett, Kyle Murphy and Graham Shuler– became full-time starters. They all arrived in the 2012 recruiting class with either four or five-star rankings. The momentum that occurred in the second half against Central Florida has carried over. The Cardinal has resembled its 2009-2013 selves by dominating time of possession and imposing its will. Not once in 2014 did a Stanford back enjoy a 100-yard game. Now, Christian McCaffrey sits among the nation’s leaders in all-purpose yards. Garnett and Murphy are legit NFL prospects. All that starts up front.

Q: Has David Shaw changed any of the play-calling duties since the opening game against Northwestern, or is he still calling red zone plays to a large extent?

A: The play-calling duties remain the same. Only the results have changed. The Card’s red-zone execution in Evanston – three trips, no touchdowns, an interception – resembled the team’s 2014 efforts inside the opponent’s 20-yard-line. The Cardinal has found paydirt on 16 of its last 21 trips to the red zone. A year ago, it only turned 54 percent – 10th in the Pac-12 – of its red zone drives into touchdowns.

Q: What would you say is the strength of the Stanford defense at this point, particularly with the thinness up front?

A: Speed and coaching come to mind. The Cardinal lost four players from last year’s defense to the NFL. In place of that experience exists capable athleticism and team speed. New starters like defensive back Alameen Murphy and linebacker Joey Alfieri are the best examples of those skills. It’s still odd to link “Stanford” with “speed.” Generations of Stanford fans watched a parade of defenders chase opposing ball carriers – Gaston Green, Skip Hicks, that UCLA running back who changed his name, among others – into the end zone. The group is also led by some of the best defensive assistants in the Pac-12. Defensive coordinator Lance Andersen is a special breed. The same can be said of defensive backs coach Duane Akina, who tutored a laundry list of future NFL starters and won a national title on Mack Brown’s staff at Texas.

Q: What kind of game are you expecting on Thursday, and do you have a score prediction?

A: I see a close game and a busy scoreboard. I envision something along the lines of the 2012 Pac-12 championship game, where merely a few plays – a Brett Hundley interception, a Hogan touchdown pass on 3rd-and-15, some very costly Bruin penalties – turned out to be the difference. But unlike recent meetings, Stanford doesn’t boast a game-changing defense. One of my best friends from high school is both a mighty Bruin alum and an avid reader of your site. With him in mind, I think Mora and Co. finally defeat their red menace and come away with a 35-31 win.

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