It is unusual for a football team, an elite team like Stanford, to change quarterbacks during the season and remain elite.
That's exactly what the Cardinal did. They changed quarterbacks and beat the seriously good Oregon State Beavers and became even more elite. The Cardinal are a contender for the Rose Bowl and, if they beat the Oregon Ducks next week in Eugene, they could own the Pac-12 North (it still feels funny to write Pac-12 and North.)
Stanford coach David Shaw grew dissatisfied with former starter Josh Nunes and on Saturday went to Kevin Hogan, a redshirt freshman, gave Hogan his first start ever at Stanford. That's putting pressure on a young player, but Hogan, it must be said, has a calm, even mild demeanor — his manner reminds you of Bob Newhart if Newhart played quarterback at Stanford, which he never did.
Because of Hogan — his poise and talent — the Cardinal beat the Beavers. It's not entirely because of Hogan, but he drove the car, even though he threw two picks. No one's perfect. But he threw three touchdowns and he rushed for 60 yards. The guy's as big as a Ram Charger and, whenever Stanford needed five yards, it seemed he would take the ball and run. Nothing fancy. Not some around-the-end trick. He would tuck in the ball and steam right up the middle — just try and stop him.
He also performed a nifty maneuver again and again. He would run parallel to a receiver — often fullback Ryan Hewitt — and as he ran, a defender would dash toward him and he would flip the ball past the defender to Hewitt for a big gain.
Here is Shaw on that kind of play: "Jon Gruden used to call those awkward body throws," Shaw said. "You can't practice them. The quarterback has to get outside and there's somebody between him and the fullback and you've got to be able to get the ball over the guy's head or throw the ball around him. Those are just athletic plays that guys can make or they can't make, and Kevin's made four or five in the last two games. It's vital."
But of all Hogan's plays against the Beavers, one stands out as the piece de resistance, as they say in France, or the whoop-de-doo as we say over here. Imagine trumpets blaring and drums pounding as I describe this play. Imagine angels applauding from the roof of Stanford Stadium.
It was the very end of the third quarter. Stanford trailed 23-14. Hogan had to bring them back. It was second-and-6 at the Oregon State 40. And Hogan took the snap. I'll let him take over the narrative for a moment: "I didn't see anything downfield, so I was trying to look for a hole to cut through. I saw Stepfan (Taylor), checked it out to him. He did the rest."
Well, let's slow down. Hogan tried to run. He ran into a defender who grabbed onto him like a lovelorn octopus. You could see Hogan falling down and you thought, "That play is kaput." But he didn't fall down. He fought to stay upright and he flipped the ball to Taylor, who faked out guys and broke tackles and blasted 40 yards for a touchdown and put Stanford right back in the game.