There was a hint of self-denial about Stanford’s offense on Saturday against San Jose State.
The Stanford offense might have superficially looked similar -- but the expression was different. Kevin Hogan took four shots downfield (20+ yards in the air), and completed one, to Devon Cajuste, for a 40-yard touchdown pass. While the aesthetic results weren't perfect -- you’d like to see Hogan complete more of those pretty-darn-open deep routes -- 10 yards per vertical attempt is respectable. (One of the misses was invalidated by a roughing-the-passer penalty. Of course you’d rather have the completion.)
But aside from those deep throws, the more important expressive note about the offense was Hogan’s running. Quite simply, there was a lack of rushes for Hogan: 3 carries for 17 yards is quite low. But it’s more than that. The 2012 offense under Hogan featured much more footloose action: Hogan got many bootlegs and other pocket-shifting actions, and simply improvised on others.
Fortunately we can compare relatively objectively by looking at past Hogan games, which have been helpfully put on YouTube. I then simply counted up Hogan running and categorized each run in one of four ways -- a called rush; a called bootleg; improvisation leading to a rush; improvisation leading to a pass. (Unfortunately UCLA round one was not available.) And here’s the resulting table:
|Game||Called Runs||Called Bootleg||Improvisation (rush)||Improvisation (pass)||Total|
|UCLA Rd. II||5||5||4||3||17|
So Hogan’s running was down against San Jose State, not simply from the relative lack of zone-reads and other designed runs. But we should hope some of the categories -- improvised runs and passes -- remain down. They reflect the need to salvage a play that wasn't working, for whatever reason. Hogan’s pass protection looks more advanced than last year, for example; and time will tell on the skill position players, though I felt Saturday’s effort was pretty respectable.
So while there will always be rescue missions, you want to reduce their frequency as much as possible. But the lack of called runs is interesting. While teams often call bootlegs or other methods of moving the pocket to simplify a young quarterback’s reads, they also serve as a legitimate method of moving the defense and testing its discipline. And read-options are a nice weapon in Hogan’s arsenal, with the UCLA game serving as a particularly potent demonstration of how good the QB can be toting the ball.
The lack of running, then, reflects a positive reality: Stanford held something back and has reserve firepower. This isn't all. But, then, there’s an implication stemming from that realization: discount Stanford is good enough on offense to put up good offensive numbers against a solid opponent. That’s the kind of performance a national contender is capable of.