In 2012 on the Cardinal's third offensive series against Colorado, one of the most successful yet enigmatic eras in the program's history began.
After starting quarterback Josh Nunes and the Stanford offense went scoreless on the team's opening two possessions, head coach David Shaw and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton decided to send in an unheralded quarterback known for his mobility, but not much else. The plan was to keep him in for a series to give the Buffs defense a new look.
The rest was history as Kevin Hogan, who had skyrocketed up with depth chart after throwing just three passes in the 2012 Spring Game, led the Card to four consecutive touchdown drives in a 48-0 win. The redshirt freshman seized the reins of the starting job and immediately guided the Cardinal through the teeth of the schedule with wins against Oregon State, Oregon, and UCLA (twice) en route to a Rose Bowl victory.
With a second consecutive Rose Bowl appearance the following year - a feat Jim Plunkett, John Elway, or Andrew Luck can claim - there was no doubt that Hogan would go down in Stanford lore as the quarterback who piloted the program through one of the most successful stretches of all time.
But despite Stanford's success, there's no doubt that Hogan sits on a lower tier in the Pantheon of Stanford quarterbacks compared to the other three legends. He certainly makes plays with his feet, has an unbelievable deep ball and makes throwing on the run look easier than it ever should, but beyond that, Kevin Hogan is pretty limited as a quarterback.
For many fans and analysts, it's hard to separate assessing Hogan's performance with the success of the team, particularly the defense. In Stanford's back-to-back runs to Pasadena, the defense had been the bread and the butter, not the quarterback play. I'm not a big fan of "what-ifs," but it's important to consider where the Cardinal would be if Luck played with the same defense.
Nevertheless, the type of chatter we hear about Hogan is directly correlated to the success of the team. After an awful day at Washington that ended in a Stanford win, Hogan was "a gamer," "resilient," and "in control." After an even sloppier day against Notre Dame, a game which went the other way, we heard something completely different: "No confidence." "Terrible mechanics." "We want Keller Chryst."
I believe that Hogan is a limited player at quarterback, but it's ridiculous to only point that out when the outcome doesn't go Stanford's way. I also think, at this point in time, that he is the right man to continue leading this team in 2014. Tim Tebow and Nick Marshall both led their teams to the national championship game, but no one would call them gunslingers or franchise NFL QBs.
Similarly, Kevin Hogan is no Andrew Luck and his struggles have been accentuated without a solid running game to rely on, but we still can't ignore that he took Stanford to a higher level than Nunes could. There's no doubt that Hogan should be the guy the rest of the season, but there are still improvements that he and the coaching staff need to make to avoid catastrophe - or worse, the New Mexico Bowl.
Go Through the Progressions
Hogan's performance against Notre Dame provided a lot of fodder for NBC's broadcasters, but their favorite talking point was his tendency to stare down one side of the field. Shaw has talked a lot this decision about giving his quarterback the "keys to the offense," but that car will keep crashing if you don't react to what the defense gives you.
Most of Hogan's interceptions seem to come off plays where he looks at Ty Montgomery the entire way before launching up a prayer. This has to stop for Stanford to be successful. Luck was extremely dangerous because he was unafraid to hit his checkdowns; Hogan has to be same way. Giving Kelsey Young, Barry Sanders, or Christian McCaffrey space to work with off of a short pass might not be the worst thing in the world.
Get the running game going
There's a lot of speculation over why Stanford has been so uncharacteristically bad at running the football this season. And 47 yards of rushing against Notre Dame is the definition of uncharacteristically bad.
Is the offensive line just not that good? Perhaps, but they seem to improving with each passing week. I think the real key to jumpstarting the ground attack starts with the offensive play-calling. I think Stanford should utilize Hogan's legs (which are what earned him the starting job in the first place) with more read-option calls. In addition, I'd love to see Stanford give Christian McCaffrey more snaps, especially on plays where he doesn't touch the ball. Fixing the running game won't be easy, but Stanford has to figure something out to save the season and I believe that job falls largely on the coaching staff leveraging the talents they have. The alternative of having Hogan throw 36 passes in the horrid conditions in South Bend won't cut it.
Bring Back the Deep Ball
We haven't seen Stanford go with the long ball very much this season and Shaw even mentioned that he was "sick" with Michael Rector's lack of involvement in the offense. Although Hogan's priority has to be going through his progressions (see the first point), his deep ball accuracy is remarkable and would help open up this struggling offense.
There's no doubt in my mind that Stanford has to stick with Hogan to be successful this season, but the offense needs to make adjustments. Washington State at home on a Friday night will be a great spot to bring some energy and life back to that side of the ball. Hogan has led a two-loss Stanford team to postseason glory before and - while he has struggled this season - the ball needs to be in his hands for Stanford to make a move up the standings.