For most of the year Stanford's offense has been fairly predictable, get the ball to #5 Sophomore running back Christian McCaffery. McCaffery leads the nation in all purpose yards and it isn't even close (he has a 320 yard lead over the next closest player). The other predictable part of the Stanford offense is that they will run the ball. In every game since their first against Northwestern they have rushed at least 40 times a game (only 27 running plays against Northwestern and three of those were sacks). It has been an extremely successful formula as Stanford has scored 370 points in 10 games which is practically identical to the polar opposite Bear-Raid offense Cal has employed for 368 points in the same number of games.
Predictability is what we have come to expect from Head Coach David Shaw's offense. Which is why it is such a shock that the staple of the Stanford offense this year has been unpredictability. Somebody in the offensive coaching staff has become innovative (in a relative sense), I don't know if it is Mike Bloomgren The Coordinator of Offensive Luck (or whatever they call their offensive coordinator on the Farm) or if Kevin Hogan is better at calling plays in the game than his coaches are from the sideline:
"The last step for a quarterback [in his development within our system] is manipulation," Shaw said. "[With Hogan], you're now looking at a guy who can manipulate the offense, who is a decision maker."
Here is an example: Stanford has the ball 4th and 1 at the Colorado 6 yard line. They are lined up in a tight split short yardage formation which would normally indicate a hand off to short yardage back Remound Wright but Stanford does this instead...
The Tight End, Dalton Schultz, sneaks out into the end zone for an easy score. Stanford went counter tendency at a critical point in the game to gain an advantage. It is almost like David Shaw knows what he is doing.
So the next time Stanford is in a short yardage situation, 3rd and less than a yard at the goal line, they line up in another tight formation. And once again they will go with a counter tendency passing play, this time with three players running routes. Except the Colorado defense is ready for that trick...
Kevin Hogan turns a busted play into a Stanford touchdown with his running ability. Hogan's willingness to run the ball has been the most important development in the Stanford offense in the second half of the year. In the USC game he injured his ankle and until the Washington State game was not able to or simply did not need to run with the ball. Trailing against Washington State, it was Hogan's running which led his team to a comeback victory. Hogan had more yards rushing in the game than McCaffery and nearly as many yards per rush as yards per completion (8.0 rushing, 8.6 per completion). This new dimension of the offense was on full display against Oregon last week.
On the first play of the game Stanford is lined up with 3 Wide Receivers, a Tight End and #5 McCaffery with #8 Hogan in the backfield. Oregon counters with 4 defensive linemen, 2 linebackers in the box, 3 players lined up over the receivers and two deep safeties.
Six defenders in the box to Stanford's six blockers, this is a run. I'm not sure what Oregon was thinking on defense since this defensive formation is begging Stanford to hand off to their best player, so that is what Stanford does:
The key blocks come from the interior offensive linemen. The Center and Right Guard pull in order to lead block, when they do this the Oregon Nose Guard has a gigantic hole through which he can stop this play in the back field. It is up to the Left Guard of Stanford to fill that hole and block the Oregon defender before he can disrupt the play.
The Left Guard knocks the Nose Guard to the ground which is enough to allow McCaffery to get by and follow his blocks for 15 yards.
Later in the first half Stanford has 3rd and 14, a great time to go back to a play which gained 15 yards earlier in the game. Stanford and Oregon are both lined up the same except this time Stanford is going to be unpredictable...
Hogan is stopped just short of the first down, but the take away lesson is that Kevin Hogan can be nearly as effective as Christian McCaffery when running the ball on play action and the Cal defense had better be ready for him.
Stanford is so confident in Hogan's running that they called a designed quarterback run for him. The blocking on this is interesting in that it is almost like a screen, #52 and #57 allow the players lined up over them to get into the back field with only a token shove so that they can get to the second level to block linebackers, it is up to the running back and center to pick these defensive linemen up.
And Kevin Hogan shows that he doesn't need perfect blocking, only enough interference to give him the moment he needs to get by the defender (which is good since #52 whiffs on his attempted 2nd level block).
Oregon showed us how to beat Stanford: score when you have the ball and force turn overs. I doubt we can rely on Kevin Hogan dropping two more snaps in the 4th quarter, so our defense will have to be looking for opportunities to get the ball on the ground.
There is nothing like watching our team play for The Axe. The hunger of the Cal players and students for it is palpable. After last week's victory to clinch bowl eligibility I expect the action on the field to be electrifying. We want The Axe, we need The Axe, go for the neck!