By Rick Eymer
Kevin Hogan, the winning quarterback in all 10 games he's been the starter for the Stanford football team, remains an unfinished product.
Last Saturday, Washington exposed some of the things Hogan needs to improve upon, accuracy being one of them. The fifth-ranked Cardinal won the game, 31-28, though Hogan produced his least-productive passing game of the season.
Part of the reason was Washington's defense, ranked first in the Pac-12 in pass defense as well as total defense.
When Stanford (3-0 in the Pac-12, 5-0 overall) travels to Salt Lake City to take on Utah (0-2, 3-2) on Saturday (3 p.m.), Hogan will be going up against the conference's 10th-ranked defense.
"There's a pit in his stomach," Cardinal coach David Shaw said. "He can't wait to play the next game. He's pushing himself to be as good as he can be."
In terms of his experience, it's as though Hogan were nearing the end of his first full season as a quarterback. It's been a high-profile experience to be sure, which includes sparkling efforts in winning the Pac-12 championship, the Rose Bowl and leading the charge against Oregon.
"He's going to go through a couple more growing pains," Shaw said. "He's not a finished product. He's going to have a couple more outstanding games and he will have a couple more rough games. I see a guy who is not satisfied."
Hogan has thrown an interception in each of his past four games and he also has 11 touchdown passes. He's ranked 10th in the conference in passing yardage per game, but he's also ranked fourth in passing efficiency.
There's plenty of upside with Hogan, who can still direct a game with the best of them. That's another quality Shaw admires.
"Washington did a great job of pass coverage," Shaw said. "Kevin missed four throws, including one on fourth down. We were terrible on third downs."
Hogan likely will rebound against the Utes, who do present a physical defensive line.
"They are hard to move and they are hard to block," Shaw said.
Utah is ranked fourth in rushing defense while Stanford is fifth in rushing offense. Watch for Hogan to dissect the Utes' secondary.
Ty Montgomery, named the Pac-12 Special Teams Player of the Week, has been effective as a wide receiver and at kickoff returns all season. He seems to be on a steady rise. He averages 76.6 receiving yards a game on just 23 receptions. He gains an average of 16.7 yards a catch, fifth in the conference.
Montgomery was the difference in the game against Washington. He returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, raced 79 yards with another kickoff and caught a 39-yard touchdown pass.
"We know how important all three phases of the game are," Montgomery said. "Every kickoff return, I can do what I do because of the blocking."
Defensively, the Cardinal has had a few problems against the passing game, though they've already played against three of the top six passing offenses in the Pac-12.
Utah is ranked in the bottom half, though quarterback Travis Wilson averages 281.2 yards a game and has thrown 11 touchdown passes. He's also thrown nine interceptions, second most in the Pac-12. Dres Anderson ranks fifth in the conference with 102.0 receiving yards per contest.
"They have an elite receiver," Stanford linebacker A.J. Tarpley said. "Their quarterback is not afraid to throw the ball and they have a big offensive line. It will be a challenge."
Tarpley saw his playing time suddenly increase two years ago, when Shayne Skov was hurt and declared out for the season. Since then he has developed into one of the top linebackers on the West Coast.
"He's always in the right place," Shaw said. "He doesn't miss tackles and we trust him with everything. He's an NFL player."
Tarpley certainly showed he was a premiere linebacker, earning a starting spot even as Skov returned to the lineup.
"Being a senior I have changed a lot," Tarpley said. "I've grown and I feel more like a veteran."
He's also part of the punt coverage team, something that gives him a lot of pleasure. He's been part of most every special teams unit while at Stanford.
"We (the linebackers) want to be the core of special teams," Tarpley said. "We want to get out, make tackles and force turnovers. We feel special teams is a third of the game and everybody out there takes pride in that."
Stanford makes its first trip to the state of Utah since 2003, and its first trip to Salt Lake City since 1995. The Cardinal and Utah first met in 1902, in Salt lake City.
Stanford has played Utah fewer times (5) than any other Pac-12 opponent.