2013 Stanford Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Stanford Cardinal Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: After highly successful offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton left for a job with the Indianapolis Colts, head coach David Shaw quickly promoted Mike Bloomgren to the opening. The move made a ton of sense—not only does Bloomgren maintain continuity, but he was the coordinator of the run game, the backbone of the offense. The Cardinal will remain a power program that uses a fullback and a tight end or two out of pro-style formations. The attack is dealing with turnover, such as all-time leading rusher Stepfan Taylor, the tight end tandem of Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo and C Sam Schwartzstein. But at least the situation at quarterback is more settled than it was at this time last year. After making the improbable ascent from buried backup to Rose Bowl champion, Kevin Hogan is cemented as the starter behind center. His skills as a runner established, he'll spend this fall improving as a passer. Replacing Taylor will require more than one player. Tyler Gaffney has returned to the Farm after doing a one-year stint with the Pittsburgh Pirates. And Anthony Wilkerson is out to prove he has feature back ability.
Star of the offense: Senior OG David Yankey
Passing: Kevin Hogan
109-152, 1,096 yds, 9 TDs, 3 INTs
Rushing: Kevin Hogan
55 carries, 263 yds, 2 TDs
Receiving: Ty Montgomery
26 catches, 213 yds, 0 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior WR Ty Montgomery
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LT Andrus Peat
Best pro prospect: Yankey
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Yankey, 2) Senior G Kevin Danser, 3) Sophomore QB Kevin Hogan
Strength of the offense: Power running game, the O-line, protecting the ball
Weakness of the offense: The passing attack, receivers, explosive plays, third-down conversions
Life after Andrew Luck at the quarterback position was a little turbulent at times on the Farm. The Cardinal employed multiple successors, eventually settling on rookie Kevin Hogan following a bold late-season switch by head coach David Shaw. It wound up being a fateful decision that changed the course of Stanford's offense and entire program. From the Colorado game on Nov. 3 forward, the Cardinal didn't lose, and the offense was noticeably more potent. The 6-4, 220-pound Hogan was the difference-maker, completing 109-of-152 throws for 1,096 yards, nine touchdowns and three picks, while rumbling for 263 yards and two more scores. More important than the raw numbers, though, was his ability to make plays on the go, and the efficiency with which he ran the offense. Now a sophomore, and a returning starter, Hogan will be expected to be even more productive in 2013.
With the retirement of Josh Nunes, 6-5, 215-pound lefty Evan Crower is the undisputed backup to Hogan. The former Top 25 recruit from 2011 is a traditional pocket passer, with an easy, compact motion. He has yet to play a down at this level.
Watch Out For … more running from Hogan, who never carried the ball more than 11 times in any of his six starts. The sophomore's legs remain ahead of his arm at this stage of his career, which should encourage more designed bootlegs. Hogan has good feet and is tough to bring down, dragging tacklers upon building a head of steam.
Strength: The intangibles. Beyond his physical ability and dual-threat potential, Hogan brings the right demeanor to the Stanford offense. He's a quiet leader and a selfless performer who operates with a team-first mindset. It's no coincidence that the Cardinal became a different team once No. 8 left the sidelines and entered the huddle.
Weakness: The passing game. The Cardinal stood just 93rd nationally in passing offense in 2012. Sure, the design of the offense and the inexperience of the quarterbacks were factors, but the attack figures to still be aerially-challenged this fall. Hogan and the receivers need to evolve, and the backups have never taken snaps at this level.
Outlook: Yeah, there's work to be done at quarterback, but Stanford is light years ahead of where it was at this time last year. The Cardinal is no longer looking to replace Andrew Luck. Now, it's simply attempting to coach up Hogan, while getting his young backups ready in the event of an emergency. Hogan is the face of the offense, a work in progress the program knows is only going to get better with more snaps.
Unit Rating: 7
Stanford's toughest loss on offense is Stepfan Taylor, the school's all-time leading rusher. He'll be tough to replace, but the ground game will be fine as long as the Cardinal continues to dominate the line of scrimmage. Of course, the team also caught a break when 6-1, 221-pound senior Tyler Gaffney decided to return to football after spending last year in the Pittsburgh Pirates minor league system. He's a quintessential Stanford, tough, hard-nosed and unlikely to be brought down by a lone tackler. Gaffney is also no stranger to the huddle, running for 791 career yards and 12 scores on 156 carries, while catching three touchdown passes.
Sharing the top of the depth chart with Gaffney is last season's backup, 6-1, 214-pound senior Anthony Wilkerson, yet another of the powerful backs in the Cardinal stable. He has a little more giddy-up than Gaffney, able to bounce outside the tackles and into the opposing secondary. As the second-leading rusher among running backs last fall, he went for 224 yards and a touchdown on 50 carries.
Redshirt freshman Barry Sanders will be looking for opportunities to bring a change-of-pace to the backfield. The 5-10, 191-pound son of the NFL Hall of Fame back by the same name is a shifty and elusive runner with a very bright future on the Farm.
Arguably the most underrated individual on offense is 6-4, 245-pound FB Ryan Hewitt. He's certainly the most versatile Cardinal weapon, a converted tight end that's part-H-back. Hewitt is big, nasty as a blocker and sure-handed, a terrific safety valve for the quarterbacks. Not maximized properly in 2012, he only scored one touchdown on the ground, while catching 14 balls for 129 yards and a score.
Watch Out For … Taylor's departure to not be felt as much as anticipated. No. 33 was terrific, delivering three straight 1,000-yard seasons. But the combination of Gaffney and Wilkerson ought to be every bit as potent as long as the line continues to do its job. And heck, Taylor wasn't even drafted in April, so it's unlikely that he's irreplaceable.
Strength: Power backs. Taylor is with the Arizona Cardinals, but the identity of this offense hasn't changed an iota. Gaffney and Wilkerson are both well north of 200 pounds, with the quick feet to hardly be labeled as plodders. The Cardinal will again be among the nation's most assertive ground-based offense, wearing out overmatched defenses.
Weakness: A change-of-pace. It's not as if the system hasn't worked over the years with the likes of Toby Gerhart and Taylor, but it would be nice to add a little flash to the running game, someone like Cal's Brendan Bigelow. Maybe Sanders or 5-9, 199-pound junior Ricky Seale can provide some pop, but neither will have a significant role in 2013.
Outlook: New starter. Same results. Don't expect the Stanford running game to skip a beat just because Taylor has used up his eligibility. In fact, it might be better now that the carries will be spread out a little. Gaffney and Wilkerson will be just fine, alternating being the statistical hero. Both veterans will deliver their best seasons with the program, churning out healthy output per carry and punching in a slew of touchdowns.
Unit Rating: 8
Wide receivers have not played a vital role in Stanford's recent four-year run of success. And they probably won't again this year. The best of an average bunch of pass-catchers on the outside is 6-2, 215-pound Ty Montgomery. The speedy junior from Dallas has shown spurts, starting four games in each of the last two years, but was hampered by an injury in 2012. He wound up catching just 26 balls for 213 yards. However, Montgomery has the measurables sure hands and body control to put it all together if he can remain healthy.
Providing a fresh look on the other side of the field will be sophomore Devon Cajuste. He caught just one ball, but the converted tight end possesses the 6-4, 232-pound frame that intrigues the staff. Yeah, he might eventually outgrow the position, but for now, the Cardinal is particularly enamored with his ability to lay out defenders as a downfield blocker.
The wild card at wide receiver is 5-10, 189-pound sophomore Kelsey Young, because opponents are never quite sure where he's going to line up. Stanford likes to move him around liberally, getting him space where matchup problems can occur. In his debut, Young caught eight passes for 74 yards, while also rushing 14 times for 160 yards and two scores.
The biggest changes in the passing game are occurring at tight end, where all-stars Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo are now playing in the NFL for the Philadelphia Eagles and the Atlanta Falcons, respectively. Stanford loves employing tight ends, often two at the same time, so the fact that 6-7, 260-pound junior Luke Kaumatule and 6-4, 233-pound junior David Dudchock are deadlocked matters little. Kaumatule is a poor-man's Toilolo, an enormous target who's still raw in his development. Dudchock is the Cardinal's version of Ertz, smaller, quicker and more likely to bust through the seam of a defense.
Watch Out For … Montgomery to catch a modest number of passes, yet turn a bunch of them into long plays. He has the talent to bust out, and figures to get more support now that QB Kevin Hogan is a year older. With a full season of availability, Montgomery is capable of becoming the deep threat that this program craves.
Strength: Blocking. If there's one thing that the Stanford receivers do about as well as any team in the Pac-12, it's getting a hat on someone. Well-taught and selfless, Montgomery and Cajuste transform into undersized tight ends on running plays, creating opportunities for plays to extend into the secondary.
Weakness: Proven pass-catchers. Montgomery caught 26 balls a year ago, the only returning Cardinal to play significant action in 2012. Cajuste is green, as are the tight ends, which is a concern for this offense. If Hogan's targets don't develop properly, he could spend a lot of time this fall dumping the ball off to backs Tyler Gaffney, Anthony Wilkerson and Ryan Hewitt.
Outlook: What really hurts the Cardinal offense is that Ertz and Toilolo are no longer around to bail out the quarterback. It'll be impossible for the replacements to make a dent in the production of a duo that caught 93 balls last year. This is a key year for Montgomery. He certainly has the raw talent. But now he has to transform it into steady production, giving Hogan a playmaker on the outside who can stretch a defense.
Unit Rating: 6
The cornerstone of Stanford's recent success has been the play of a rock solid O-line. That's going to be the case again this fall. Four starters return, headed by next-level senior David Yankey. The versatile 6-5, 301-pound All-American earned the coveted Morris Trophy, given to the Pac-12's best blocker, in a year that he switched positions. A natural guard, who's moving back inside in 2013, he didn't skip a beat, allowing just one sack, when the Cardinal needed a left tackle last year. Yankey is a downright menacing run blocker in tight spaces, with the drive and the athleticism to pummel opposing defenders well downfield.
Joining Yankey at guard will be Kevin Danser, unless the senior winds up succeeding Sam Schwartzstein at center instead. Either way, he's going to be in the lineup for a second season after busting out in 2012 by appearing on the All-Pac-12 Second Team. The heady biomechanical engineering major is loaded with intangibles, including the offseason work ethic to continue improving his blocking skills. At 6-6 and 301 pounds, Danser is the prototypical Stanford lineman, hulking size, yet not clumsy or slow afoot.
With Yankey shifting back to guard, the new veteran among the tackles will be junior Cameron Fleming, who's back for his third season as the starting right tackle. After being named honorable mention All-Pac-12 in successive years, he's looking to take another step forward in his development. At 6-6 and 318 pounds, Fleming harbors the size and the strength to bully the opposition on running downs, yet was also a key component of a group that allowed just 20 sacks in 14 games a year ago.
Filling the job that Yankey held at left tackle in 2012 will be Andrus Peat, the face of the next generation of stars up front on the Farm. A four-star recruit from just a year ago, he already looks as if he'll grab the attention of scouts who'll label him a prototypical NFL blindside protector. The 6-7, 310-pound sophomore is enormous, with the long arms and light feet to keep the pocket clean for his quarterback.
The biggest unknown in the trenches is at center, where fingers are crossed that fifth-year senior Khalil Wilkes can fill the void left by all-star C Sam Schwartzstein. The 6-3, 290-pound Wilkes has played a lot of football at Stanford, starting 12 games at left guard last year, but he's the weakest link among the projected starters. He's smart and versatile, but needs to play with more consistency.
Danser is a possibility at the pivot if Wilkes regresses, as is 6-3, 288-pound junior Conor McFadden. McFadden has played sparingly up to this point, but has had a solid offseason. If Danser slides inside, the staff will jump at the opportunity to turn loose sophomore Joshua Garnett. The 6-5, 317-pound five-star recruit from a year ago is a road-grader on running plays, and will become tougher and tougher to keep off the field.
The Cardinal's top backup tackle—on both sides of the line—figures to be 6-7, 272-pound sophomore Kyle Murphy, yet another of the five-star gems from the 2012 class. Murphy played some last year, getting gradually more accustomed to Pac-12 pass rushers. He'll benefit from the addition of more weight to a long and athletic frame that can clearly handle it.
Watch Out For … the outcome of the situation at center. The pivot is going to answer a lot of questions about who's on the field at the beginning of each game. If it's Wilkes, the situation will remain pretty static. However, if it's Danser, it's going to open up an interesting opportunity for Garnett to become a starter for the first time.
Strength: Moving a pile. The Cardinal is very big and very physical at the point of attack, something they've shown over and over again in the Pac-12 over the past few years. This disciplined group is well-coached at locking on, controlling the line of scrimmage and just wearing down opposing defensive fronts.
Weakness: Center. Relatively speaking, Stanford's biggest concern lies in the middle of the line, where a starter has yet to be named. The staff needs to anoint someone as early as possible in the summer, allowing QB Kevin Hogan the time he needs to develop chemistry and a comfort level with the man snapping him the ball.
Outlook: This unit continues to be one of the cornerstones of the program's success, an unrelenting set of blockers that can dominate at the point of attack. Stanford has done a brilliant job of recruiting and developing offensive linemen, perennially putting forth one of the country's premier front wall. The 2013 edition will be terrific as well, built around four returning starters and multiple All-Pac-12-caliber performers.
Unit Rating: 9
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