Kevin Hogan's expanded role a welcome sight in Stanford's offense

Ezra Shaw

The Cardinal have struggled offensively so far this season, and Kevin Hogan might be the shakeup that finally kicks the offense into gear

For eight games, Stanford's offense has been going, oh, about 45 in a 70.

Sure, it eventually gets to the final destination - a win - but everybody in the car is hot and frustrated by the time it gets there.

On Tuesday, David Shaw announced that backup quarterback Kevin Hogan would get more snaps this weekend against Colorado in the hopes that a change at quarterback would spur the offense to more success.

My response was something between "about time" and "hallelujah!"

After watching a team that is 90th in total offense, 91st in passing efficiency, 88th in red zone offense and has a 34.5 percent third-down conversion percentage for eight games, I, for one, welcome the opportunity to see if the Cardinal can finally hit its entire offensive horsepower.

With Josh Nunes at the helm, Stanford's game plan looks the same no matter whom it plays. The defense will hold the other team under 20 points, Nunes will complete about 50 percent of his passes and the Cardinal offense's success will be entirely predicated on how well Stepfan Taylor runs the ball.

Most of the time, it works. But wow, is it frustrating to sit through.

And after a much-too-close game against Washington State on Saturday, I'm glad that Shaw is ready to see if the offensive ceiling for the Cardinal is higher than what we've seen so far this year.

Hogan may not have been ready to step in and contribute five weeks ago or even three weeks ago - unfortunately; it's too late for "what ifs" about that now - but it's good to see that Shaw knows Oregon State and Oregon are ahead and understands that he must shake things up if he wants to have a chance to gain the most out of this season.

On one hand, I can understand Shaw's reticence to yank Nunes entirely from his starting role and why he doesn't want to be too hard on a guy who is trying to fill Andrew Luck's shoes. Nunes hasn't made any catastrophic mistakes so far this season, playing quarterback at an elite level is difficult and Stanford's two losses do not rest on his shoulders alone.

But on the other hand, Nunes hasn't gotten markedly better since the San Jose State game 10 weeks ago. And the Washington State game made it obvious - I find it to be little coincidence that the Washington State score was basically the same as the San Jose State score. While it looked like the Arizona game might have been a revelation in his season - it did take his detractors off his back for at least a week - it has since proved to be a major outlier.

Naturally, the most curious thing about this quarterback shake-up in particular is the fact that's it's occurring this late in the season. Quarterback competitions occur at the beginning of the year or at the end of a lost season - and while Stanford's season is certainly not lost, the offense that has worked well enough for the first eight games simply won't work for the last five.

With Oregon State's 12th-ranked defense and Oregon's 24th-ranked defense bearing down on the Cardinal in the next three weeks, Stanford's only hope to compete for the Pac-12 north title is if it finds a way to kick-start the offense into a previously undiscovered gear.

This late-season quarterback shake-up (it's not really a "change" - at least, not yet) reminds me of the LSU Tigers in 2011. Jarrett Lee started the season and led the team past No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, but the offense wasn't hitting on all cylinders and looked like it might fizzle out down the stretch against Arkansas and Georgia. So the Tigers switched quarterbacks, and Jordan Jefferson gave the Bayou Bengals the offensive boost they needed to win an SEC championship and get back to the national title game. While Jefferson didn't bring the BCS trophy to Baton Rouge, the Tigers needed a change to spark their offense through the finish line, and he gave it to them.

A repeat of LSU's success is the best-case scenario for Stanford heading into its last few games: Hogan helps the offense finally click into fourth and fifth gear and gives the Cardinal a chance to compete against the Oregon schools for the Pac-12 north title.

The worst-case scenario? Hogan isn't ready for his chance on the big stage yet and Shaw has to return the keys to Nunes for the rest of the season. Unfortunately, it will likely mean that the Cardinal will probably end up in the Holiday Bowl or Alamo Bowl, because if the status quo remains, Stanford will have a hard time competing against the Oregon schools.

But no matter which scenario plays out, I'll be happy. At least Shaw's giving success a chance - and seeing if the Cardinal can blow right past the "speed limit" sign that's been restricting the offense.

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