STANFORD — Kevin Hogan walked into Stanford quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford’s office Sunday — a day off for players — to get his week started a little earlier.
After winning his first 10 starts, including the Pac-12 title game and the Rose Bowl last season, Hogan had never felt the sting he did after the Cardinal lost 27-21 at Utah on Saturday. The redshirt sophomore quarterback just didn’t want to wait until Monday to begin correcting his mistakes.
“He definitely felt the loss,” Sanford said. “I don’t think that there’s a guy that’s more competitive that I’ve been around internally. He’s his harshest critic.”
As Hogan has gone the past year, so has Stanford’s offense.
The quarterback sparked Stanford’s surge late last season when he supplanted Josh Nunes and started this year even stronger, showing off a new deep passing game that led to four blowout victories. But Hogan has been inconsistent the last two weeks in a close win over Washington and the loss at Utah. He’s looked more like a player who has been the starter for less than a calendar year than one who last season took Stanford to a place Andrew Luck never could.
Hogan will get the chance to respond from his first setback when No. 13 Stanford (5-1, 3-1) hosts No. 9 UCLA (5-0, 2-0) on Saturday in a rematch of last season’s Pac-12 championship game.
“I put as much as I can on myself,” Hogan said. “That’s my job is to get us in the right play, get us in the right protection, make sure the guys are in the right place, make sure everybody knows what they’re doing.”
Hogan has thrown for 1,178 yards, 12 touchdowns and four interceptions this season. He has completed 61.2 percent of his passes and run for 141 yards and a score.
In the past two games, Hogan’s quarterback rating has slid from sixth in the country to 27th. He completed 12 of 20 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown with one interception in a 31-28 win over Washington. He finished 15 of 27 for 246 yards and a TD against Utah. He also fumbled once.
“Kevin has not played great the last couple weeks — as a complete game. But in each game he’s made some great plays,” Stanford coach David Shaw said.
The way Hogan finished against Utah highlighted his inconsistencies.
Hogan completed his first five passes for 73 yards on Stanford’s final drive, including a 10-yard strike to Ty Montgomery between three defenders on a third down. But with Stanford facing third-and-2 from Utah’s 6-yard line, Hogan threw two incompletions under heavy pressure to hand Utah the win.
“In Game 20, he’s going to be a superstar,” Shaw said. “He’s still building and growing and learning. And he’s capable of making unbelievable plays, as he has just about every game — a big play.”
The offense’s slide is not all on Hogan’s shoulders.
In the first four games, Stanford averaged 218 rushing yards and 5.3 yards per carry. In the last two, the Cardinal have averaged 161 and 4.6.
Smaller gains on first and second down have put Stanford in difficult positions to extend drives. Stanford is just 10 of 27 on third downs the last two weeks.
Coaches note that the offense is still in the early stages of a major transition that goes beyond the quarterback.
With All-American tight end Zach Ertz and 6-foot-8 target Levine Toilolo in the NFL now, the Cardinal are no longer relying on short and intermediate passes to tight ends. Instead, Hogan has been asked to throw different route combinations to promising — albeit inexperienced — wide receivers.
That’s put more of a burden — and blame when things go wrong — on Hogan this season.
“I think it’s just higher expectations,” center Khalil Wilkes said. “Last year, we were dealing with the thing where it was kind of two quarterbacks, but now it’s his show. Other teams have been able to scout him and our offense and kind of know the different plays we like to run with him. Defenses have been able to adjust and make it harder on him, but I think he’s been doing a great job adjusting with it.”
Adjustments could be key come Saturday. No team has faced Hogan more than UCLA.
Hogan helped the Cardinal beat the Bruins twice in a six-day span last season for the Pac-12 title. He was 15 for 22 for 160 yards and a touchdown in Stanford’s 35-17 win over UCLA in the regular-season finale, and he finished 16 of 22 for 155 yards and a TD in a 27-24 victory against the Bruins in the conference championship game.
While his perfect record has been shattered, Hogan said his confidence has not been.
“There are a lot of things I need to work on and keep developing, but I’m comfortable with where I’m at right now,” Hogan said. “I’m still going to prepare to never lose a game.”