Stanford’s offense is difficult to defend

SEATTLE — Darryl Monroe, a Washington State linebacker typically awash in self-confidence, sat in an interview room at CenturyLink Field last weekend and had no choice but to admit a simple truth.

Stanford had taken him and the Cougars by surprise.

“We came in and we expected them to do what they did (in) previous games, which is not what they did,” Monroe said. “It kind of caught us off guard.”

The revelation is this: for all the talk of Stanford’s run-first offensive style under third-year head coach David Shaw, the progression of sophomore quarterback Kevin Hogan has made the Cardinal’s offense that much more difficult to defend.

This week, it’s No. 15 Washington’s turn to try to pressure, chase and tackle Hogan, along with Stanford’s weaponry in the backfield and at receiver. The Huskies travel south for a 7:30 p.m. Saturday game against the No. 5 Cardinal, a game that could prove decisive in the Pac-12 North division race.

It should also prove that Stanford is more than the one-dimensional team UW faced early last year, before Hogan’s insertion at quarterback and the Cardinal’s Pac-12 championship run.

“They’re going to tax you in all phases, so you have to defend everything,” UW coach Steve Sarkisian said. “You can’t go in thinking, ‘this is just goal-line football.’ That’s not the way they play, and that’s not the way they play when they’re at their best.”

So it is unlikely that Washington’s defense will produce defensive statistics as dominant as it did against the Cardinal last season, when Stanford lost 17-13 at CenturyLink Field. Stanford rushed for just 68 yards on 28 carries and threw for 170 on 37 pass attempts, each of them by Josh Nunes, whom Hogan replaced later in the season.

As Huskies defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox notes, the Cardinal’s offensive production is nearly the same on the ground (218 yards per game) as it is through the air (221.3).

“He’s a big, strong kid,” Wilcox said of Hogan, “and he makes some throws that are very impressive, and the guys they’ve got running the routes have got good speed. He’s made some really good plays with his feet, too, on 3rd-and-6 and 7 — found a crease and got a first down and kept the chains moving, so he’s done a good job.”

Last week against WSU, Hogan threw touchdown passes of 57, 33 and 45 yards on play-action passes. Hogan attempted 17 passes in the first half, which matched his total in the previous week’s victory over Arizona State.

There’s a reason Hogan’s 9-0 as Stanford’s starter. But Hogan’s versatility — he also scrambled for a few key third-down conversions — is part of the package, UW defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha said.

“I feel like that makes them a lot more dynamic, having that balanced offense,” Kikaha said. “That’s also exciting. You get a changeup. You get to play really hard, physical ball, and then you get to rush the passer. It’s a good thing for us.”

Kikaha, a fourth-year junior, hasn’t played against Stanford since his true freshman season in 2010, before ACL injuries in back-to-back years wiped out nearly two full seasons of competition for the Laie, Hawaii native.

Watching the Cardinal on film, Kikaha said, provides motivation to “play lower, have a better base and be more disciplined and stout in my techniques. I’m excited for them to challenge us (and) our manhood again and bring their same physicality.”

This time, manhood might extend past the trenches.

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