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December 16, 2013

Deep ball pays dividends

Stanford was dealt an unexpected piece of extra motivation in the hours leading up to the Pac-12 title game. As the Cardinal warmed up on the turf at Sun Devil Stadium, Arizona State streamed pregame shows on its video board. The shows' analysts discussed the difficulties the Cardinal had endured away from Stanford Stadium, and quarterback Kevin Hogan's up-and-down road performances.

"It was impossible to ignore," Stanford quartebacks/receivers coach Mike Sanford recalled. "In all of our pregame warmup they were playing up on the big screen loud as heck. They were playing all the pregame shows and all the pundits were talking about his struggles and our struggles on the road. And here we were on the road, the stadium is filling up. You can't help but hear it."

Come game time, the Cardinal offense silenced the critics and Arizona State's boisterous home crowd with one of its best all-around performances of the season. Stanford played its usual brand of stifling defense, and Hogan had arguably the best game of his college career.

"I think (it was his best game at Stanford)," Sanford said. "I was extremely proud. I think the best moment of his career was the 99-yard drive. The mettle that he showed on third down to step up in the pocket and rip a ball down the middle to Cajuste, that changed that game. You talk about a complete momentum killer for a defense, for a football team really, because our defense has that goalline stand. And then (several) plays later we're in the endzone. You're talking about a complete gut check point for our offense, for our whole football team and an absolutely devastating turn of events for the Arizona State team."

The success of Stanford's passing game was fueled by Hogan's efficiency on the deep ball. Hogan's 12-for-18, 277-yard performance included four passing plays of at least 30 yards.

Hogan's offseason work on improving his deep ball touch had paid major dividends in the biggest game of the year.

"(The deep ball) was a really big emphasis (throughout the offseason and into the season)," Sanford said. "As an offensive staff we've tried to generate yards and do it in a different way than we did last year based off the personnel we had. And so we've worked on it a lot. Coach Shaw has been great at really seeing to it that we get the reps in practice, not just in team periods in 11-on-11 periods, but also when we get routes on air. We get the special teams period just working with the quarterbacks. Coach Shaw has been awesome about staying diligent with chucking the ball deep. I don't know that there's a better down the field throwing team that I've seen consistently that makes it a concerted effort to throw the ball down the field and really believes in that, in throwing the ball down the field."

Increased repetitions in some of those practice periods helped Hogan stay mechanically sound and avoid the tendency to miss throws long.

"I think the biggest thing is fundamentally and the techniques of throwing the deep ball," Sanford said. "A lot of times quarterback feel like they have to wind up and overthrow it. And I think he's doing a better job because of repetition of just keeping his techniques, his fundamentals in check and not letting them getting out of whack because he is trying to wind up and throw a big ball down the field."

One of the deepest and most explosive wide receiving corps in recent Stanford history have also helped transform the Cardinal's vertical passing game.

"The other part is, hey, we have receivers out there that are making plays for him as well," Sanford said. "Not to say that we didn't last year because we certainly did, but there's not just one guy, not just two guys that can make plays down the field. There are five. There are five guys at receiver that have made some kind of down the field play this year. That's hard to defend. That's been a big part of our offensive success. Last year I think we did a great job of complementing our run game with the tight end play. This year we've complemented our run game with down the field throws."

Burns Report: Though there was a transition from the single-wing offense he ran in high school to Stanford's pro-style attack, freshman quarterback Ryan Burns has shown positive signs in his first year on The Farm.

"Ryan's really made some good progress this year," Sanford said. "He's a super-talented kid. He's a guy that's preparing very well. I love the way we do things here at Stanford with our offense in terms of keeping our young guys that may be redshirting completely involved in the mental preparation of the game. So he's in every meeting, he's taking the same notes that Kevin is taking. He's going through all of the protection work. He's answering all of the same questions that our starters answer. That's a lot to ask of a freshman that's learning for the first time how to execute an offense that he had never done, that he had never done anything similar to. But he has unbelievable amounts of arm talent and he's doing a nice job. He really works hard at it and he obviously has the physical tools to be pretty special."

Shaw addresses NFL talk: Stanford head coach David Shaw called rumors that linked him to NFL head coaching jobs "flattering," but said he "absolutely" still had no desire to pursue other coaching positions.

"No matter what I say the rumors aren't going to stop," Shaw said. "But as I said, it doesn't bother me. It's just a testament to every good football program in the last 15 years, after two good years the head coach is going to be rumored to go someplace else. So I take it as a compliment and we're going to try to win the Rose Bowl."

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