LOS ANGELES — The low point of Kevin Hogan’s season came in the fourth quarter of a Nov. 14 game against Oregon, when the usually sure-handed Stanford quarterback fumbled away two center snaps, the second with two minutes left and the Cardinal deep in Ducks territory driving for a potential game-tying score.
The mistakes were costly in a 38-36 loss that derailed Stanford’s national title hopes, pushing the Cardinal out of College Football Playoff contention and toward Friday’s Rose Bowl game against Iowa. But they did nothing to demoralize Hogan, who has learned a thing or two about dealing with adversity.
Hogan, a fifth-year senior, played the 2014 season knowing his father, Jerry, 64, was dying of colon cancer. No one at the university, not even Coach David Shaw or Hogan’s closest friends, knew because Jerry wanted to keep his illness private.
Not until early November, when Jerry’s condition worsened, did Hogan’s mother, Donna, call Shaw with the news. A month later, on Dec. 8, 2014, Jerry, a Washington lobbyist for AT&T, died in McLean, Va., with Kevin and other family members at his side.
“It changes your mind-set on a lot of things; it changes your perspective,” Hogan said this week at a Stanford media session in downtown Los Angeles. “At the end of the day, it’s just a game we’re playing. You have to treat it that way. Have fun with it, relax. You can’t tense up. That’s what I’ve been trying to do all year, and I feel comfortable out there. I’m never nervous.”
It shows. Hogan has completed 194 of 283 passes for 2,644 yards, with 24 touchdowns and seven interceptions, to help Stanford (11-2) win its third Pac-12 Conference championship and earn its third trip to the Rose Bowl in four years.
“He’s a different player this year,” Cardinal offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren said. “The confidence he has and how much he’s grown as a human being as well as a player in the last year is unbelievable. He grew up really fast in those few weeks with his father.
“He’s got a different outlook on life that he’ll talk to the guys about openly. I think he’s living his life to the fullest and trying to really attain excellence in everything he does because he knows that’s the way his dad did it and the way his dad would want it.”
The lessons of the father clearly live in the son.
“There’s so many things he instilled in me — the values, the voice, and how he carried himself as a person,” Kevin Hogan said. “He was always so humble and interested in other people. I’ve really tried to be like that myself.
“Football-wise, it’s just going out and having fun and enjoying the game I’ve been playing my whole life. I’ve been trying to keep it simple. It’s a game, so treat it like a game. It’s not like you’re going to war. … It’s allowed me to kind of relax my shoulders and just play the game I know how to play.”
Nothing has fazed Hogan this season. After an opening loss to Northwestern, Hogan helped guide Stanford to eight straight wins in which it averaged 41 points a game.
Included in that run was a 41-31 victory over USC on Sept. 19 in which Hogan, despite suffering a severely sprained left ankle early in the second half, completed 18 of 23 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns.
“He could barely even walk, and all of a sudden he’s out there scrambling and doing all these things, and the day after the game, his ankle just blew up,” Stanford linebacker Blake Martinez said. “It was like, ‘OK, that’s a warrior right there.’ He always gives you that extra oomph to get it to the next level.”
After his second fumble against Oregon, the Cardinal got the ball back and drove 51 yards in eight plays, Hogan teaming with Greg Taboada on a four-yard touchdown pass with four seconds left. But Hogan’s pass on a two-point conversion try fell incomplete.
Two weeks later, against fourth-ranked Notre Dame, Hogan led Stanford on a five-play, 45-yard drive in the final 30 seconds, and the Cardinal pulled out a 38-36 win on Conrad Ukropina’s 45-yard field goal as time expired.
“His preparation, his execution and his leadership have been unbelievable,” Bloomgren said of Hogan. “What makes him so effective is the way he attacks the game plan.”
Hogan, 23, took over as starter midway through the 2012 season and led Stanford to its first Rose Bowl win in 41 years. With considerable physical tools — he’s 6 feet 4 and 218 pounds, with a strong arm and enough speed to scramble for key first downs — Hogan projects as a mid-round NFL pick.
But as big a reason for Hogan’s success — he has 35 career wins, most among active college quarterbacks — has been his ability to master Stanford’s intricate offense, to identify defensive fronts, spot blitzes, change plays at the line of scrimmage and not rush through his progressions.
“He drives the ship in everything we do,” Bloomgren said. “If we didn’t keep challenging Kevin and putting more on his plate, he’d get bored with it because he’s so smart. He doesn’t want it to be easy.”
A coach will often refer to a heady quarterback as a “coach on the field.” Hogan really is. The quarterback runs the weekly pass-protection meetings with the offensive line while Bloomgren and other coaches sit in the back of the room.
Not even Andrew Luck, the current Indianapolis Colts star quarterback, did that at Stanford.
“It’s his meeting — he’s running it, he’s in charge,” Bloomgren said. “That’s rare. I don’t know anybody that’s doing it in college football or who would want to do it because I don’t know if they trust their kids.
“We trust Kevin with everything in our offense. I don’t think I tell him ‘Thank you’ enough for making our job so easy.”