LOS ANGELES — The instructions given to Kevin Hogan last season were relatively simple despite the complexities that would follow. All he had to do was study. For a guy enrolled at Stanford, that part typically comes easy.
The course in question, however, wasn’t found on any class syllabus: Advanced Quarterbacking.
Hogan’s task was to study Andrew Luck as though he was preparing for a final exam. Study his demeanor. Study his film room work. Study how he handled the media. Everything down to the most minute details. Study. Study. Study.
“His redshirt year, he had one job, and that was to watch Andrew,” Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton said. “Sit in the back of the room, be seen and not heard and emulate everything that Andrew Luck is doing, OK? How he managed his time, how he interacted in the meeting room, how he studied the game plan, his mannerisms on game day.”
Many young quarterbacks learn the ropes of the college game from an upperclassman, but few have the opportunity to absorb information from one of the most pro-ready signal callers in years. Luck, the No.1 pick in last spring’s NFL Draft, would go on to set Stanford career quarterback records for passing touchdowns, total offense, victories and winning percentage, among others.
All the while, Hogan internalized those lessons, hoping to someday use them on the field. He never envisioned the reward would come so soon.
Hogan, a redshirt freshman, began fall practices as Stanford’s third-string quarterback behind Josh Nunes and Brett Nottingham while the Cardinal attempted to move on from Luck. By Nov. 10, Hogan had leapfrogged his way to the top of the depth chart, and he’ll earn his fifth career start Tuesday when No. 8 Stanford (11-2) plays Wisconsin (8-5) in the Rose Bowl.
His poise and ability to command the huddle can be traced, in part, to those quiet studies in observation of Luck.
What did Hogan learn from his predecessor?
“I shouldn’t say everything,” Hogan said, stifling laughter. “He’s the ultimate manager of the football game. He really knows how to manage it, whether it’s bad plays, whether it’s the pocket, whether it’s the protections. Watching him in the huddle, he had no problem telling his best friends to be quiet, among other words.
“Just watching him manage the game and lead the offense was the most important thing.”
The path from third-stringer to starter this season may seem as though it came easily now that Hogan has arrived, but that is not the case. In August, Hogan struggled to grasp all the concepts in the playbook and to maintain timing with his receivers. All that demonstrated that serving an apprenticeship under the best doesn’t guarantee success.
“During camp, he was really unsure of himself,” Stanford wide receiver Drew Terrell said. “This offense, and in this game of college football, if you don’t have confidence in yourself, you’re not going to be able to succeed. It was like he was out there thinking too much, letting the mental side of things get to him.”
Stanford opened the season with Nunes at quarterback, and the Cardinal played well. Nunes threw for 275 yards with three touchdowns in a blowout victory against Duke and 360 yards with two touchdowns and three rushing scores in an overtime thriller against Arizona.
Then, the offense stalled, seemingly more with each passing week. During a Nov. 3 game against Colorado, Stanford punted on its first two drives with Nunes under center. Suddenly, out trotted Hogan, who had thrown all of one pass in the first eight games.
Hogan led the Cardinal to six consecutive scoring drives and completed 18 of 23 passes for 184 yards with two touchdowns, and Stanford walked off the field with a 48-0 victory. Two days later, coach David Shaw named Hogan the starter.
“I think we were kind of surprised when he got the nod,” Terrell said. “It kind of came out of nowhere. … We have incredible confidence in him now. He’s getting better with his command of the offense and being really a student of the playbook.”
Since the Colorado game, teammates say Hogan has looked like an entirely different player. He is more confident. He has spent even more time loading the playbook on his team-issued iPad. Hogan says he stares at three or four hours of film per week in addition to watching during team meetings.
“Late at night before I go to bed,” he said.
It has certainly paid off. Hogan has gone 4-0 as a starter against four ranked opponents and earned MVP honors during the Pac-12 championship game against UCLA. He has completed 71.5 percent of his passes and thrown for 780 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions. In the process, he also has drawn comparisons to the last Stanford quarterback.
“You never see him get too high or too low after a good play or bad play,” Cardinal tight end Zach Ertz said. “I think that’s good for any quarterback, but especially in this offense when we look to the quarterback so much. We had Andrew last year, and Kevin kind of exemplifies a lot of the same characteristics.”
Stanford center Sam Schwartzstein noted the similarities between the two players in the way they prepare for the next opponent.
“It’s an extremely difficult job,” Schwartzstein said Friday. “I remember watching Andrew do it where Monday was 100 percent football. He would be there from sun up to sun down, trying to understand his game plan. Kevin is kind of approaching it the same way. Kevin had an entire notebook just from yesterday filled out of the notes from the Monday meeting, and he was able to give us some verbatim back to us when coach asked him to. So watching Kevin’s approach to the game and love of the game is pretty impressive.”
The comparisons between Hogan and Luck seem only natural. Hogan stands 6-foot-4, 224 pounds. Luck’s listed measurements are 6-4, 234 pounds. Both were highly recruited quarterback prospects out of high school, Hogan from Washington, D.C., and Luck from Houston, and the two remain in contact, texting regularly after games.
Hogan has tried to stay away from the parallels to Luck, even if they follow him wherever he goes.
“We’re different players,” he said. “He’s an amazing player. I try to be like him. He’s like an idol. But I wouldn’t want to be compared to him. I think that does him an injustice.”