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November 2, 2013

Notebook: Analyzing tempo

As Stanford's offense has encountered some midseason struggles, so too has quarterback Kevin Hogan. After starting the season with four straight games of at least two passing touchdowns completion percentage, Hogan has thrown only three touchdowns against two interceptions in his last four outings.

Hogan has managed to make some critical throws in the recent stretch, but has also been shaky on others. Stanford quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford doesn't think one type of throw has plagued Hogan; rather, the redshirt sophomore has been generally inconsistent.

"It's overall just consistency," Sanford said. "I don't think there's any particular throw. It's just overall consistency and having a smooth stroke, and that's what this bye week is so good for. Because we have a chance to work on a lot of those throws and have consistency."

Hogan has been at his best when Stanford's offense has operated at a fast pace. The Cardinal scored touchdowns late in the first half against Washington and Oregon State in two-minute situations.

"A lot of times when you're in what people call up-tempo, it's essentially a two-minute offense dictated by situation," Sanford said. "People don't realize, but that's pretty significant everywhere because in two-minute situations, the defense ends up getting pretty vanilla and then you run your base pass plays. Everywhere I've ever coached that's always been something that you see, that two-minute offense, because it's the stuff you practice every week and it's against vanilla looks, it's really good. Now, if you run an up-tempo offense the entire game a defense is going to defend you differently because they're not on their heels because of the time situation. They're going to defend you differently. Not every up-tempo offense works."

What prevents Stanford from adopting the up-tempo style as a greater part of its offense?

"I think philosophically we have to be who we are," Sanford said. "We're not just going to with the Ty's completely. We're going to get the best personnel on the field to do the best that we can do. Part of what we do well is getting the best personnel on the field and mixing up personnel. When you go up tempo a lot of times you limit your personnel groupings. I think that there is certainly some merit to changing up tempo at times, but also there's also a lot of merit in knowing who you are. When you see a lot of these teams that go to up tempo offenses and it doesn't work for you, you're three-and-out a whole lot faster. I always say that when I look at an up-tempo offense it's great and all if you're converting third downs and staying on the field, but it's probably the worst thing you can do to a defense if you're three-and-out in about 12 seconds. That's not a great model for success."

Purpose of the Lloyd package: Stanford's Lloyd package - which includes redshirt freshman Dallas Lloyd and redshirt junior Ricky Seale - has been effective at times, but has also resulted in two fumbles in limited reps. Sanford said that the package is designed to take advantage of Lloyd's superior athleticism and strength with the ball in his hands, but acknowledged that the turnovers are a concern.

"He's a really physical runner," Sanford said. "We've had some positive plays on it in games this year. Obviously you're only as good as your last performance, that's what everybody remembers. That was a disappointing outcome to a really significant drive. That can't happen, it's inexcusable on all of our parts in terms of putting the ball on the ground. We have to do a better job. But he's a guy that does a great job running the ball. He finishes runs. And he also takes a couple of hits off of Kevin that are between the tackle type runs."

Owusu progressing: Francis Owusu made several key blocks in Stanford's win over Oregon State last week from the receiver position, and the true freshman could be close to earning more playing time on offense.

"The last couple of weeks he's been getting about three to four to five snaps on offense," Sanford said. "He's doing well. He's close (to getting more). He's very close. He had a couple of good plays last week. On two of Kelsey Young's fly sweeps he had really key blocks on the perimeter. He's such a big, physical, strong guy that is making process. I'm excited about where he's at. I think this game experience, as much as it hasn't been statistical evidence of what he's been doing, it's going to pay huge dividends in the future for him and for us."

Assessing Oregon's secondary: With a future top NFL Draft pick in Ifo Ekpre-Olomu leading the way, Oregon's secondary is often considered to be the strength of its defense. Though the Ducks are ranked No. 60 nationally in pass defense, that figure is skewed by Oregon's fast-paced and lethal offense. The Ducks allow only 5.31 yards per pass attempt, a figure that ranks among the country's top teams.

"They've all played together for so long," Sanford said. "You feel like you've seen these guys play together certainly all of last year and then a good chunk of those guys played on the team the year before and some of those guys played on the team the year before that. So (they have) experience and intelligence. You can tell as a cohesive unit they have great football IQ. I think Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is one of the premier corners in college football. (He's a) great tackler. That's the thing you love about him. He's not just a great cover guy. We have a lot of respect for guys who come up and tackle. And there's not a lot of those at corner. He's a guy that takes on blocks and sheds blocks and isn't afraid to throw his face in there on a ball carrier. He's a guy you have a lot of respect for."

Reflections on 2012: After allowing a combined 105 points in losses to Oregon in 2010 and 2011, Stanford's defense held the Ducks to only 14 last season.

When did Stanford know the 2012 game would be different?

"For me it was actually when Devon Carrington ran down Marcus Mariota," inside linebacker A.J. Tarpley said. "That was early in the game. It's a huge play for them, they gained 70 yards or whatnot. It wouldn't seem like it would be a play that gave me any confidence, but it did. Seeing him and seeing everybody run him down, not give up. That's when I knew that we had a chance at a special game. Everyone was all in. We were all going to try our hardest, we were going to give 100 percent effort every play. Seeing him do that, when easily he could have ran 90 percent. Nobody would have noticed. Mariota would have scored and you never know what could have happened after that. We get that tackle and then we get a stop and that's really what gave us the confidence."

Carrington's tackle was one of the highlights in a defensive performance that ranks among the best in Stanford history.

"It was a team effort," Tarpley said. "Defensively that was one of the performances I'll never forget, all the guys on the defense. The No. 1 thing was tackling. With (Oregon) if one guy is out of their lane or not doing their job, or even if you are there and you miss a tackle, they have the elite athletes to score a touchdown from anywhere on the field. The heart, the desire, the toughness we played with combined with doing our jobs every play and not missing tackles (were big parts of the outcome)."

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