Thursday, November 29, 2012
Hogan, Hundley playing beyond their years
By Kevin Gemmell
Redshirt freshmen QBs Brett Hundley and Kevin Hogan have led their schools to the Pac-12 title game.
The most impressive aspect of the two quarterbacks starting in Friday night's Pac-12 championship game isn't that UCLA's Brett Hundley is completing 67.8 percent of his passes or that Stanford's Kevin Hogan is completing 73 percent. It's not their mobility, escape-ability or moxie to extend plays. All of those things are worthy of note. But it's their youth -- more specifically, their success despite that youth -- that has impressed.
Both redshirt freshmen have taken command of their respective teams -- Hundley from preseason camp and Hogan within the past month -- and guided them to the Pac-12 championship game with zero college playing experience prior to 2012.
This is an interesting trend within the conference, and even at a few schools nationally. Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Hogan, Hundley and ASU sophomore Taylor Kelly -- a first-year starter -- all have their teams headed to the postseason and are among the top quarterbacks in the league in efficiency.
"These guys are coming in ready," UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. "A lot of it has to do with the offenses they are playing in in high school. There are all the passing leagues. And the spread offenses usually allow good athletes to succeed quicker."
The similarities between Hogan and Hundley (sounds like a great buddy film) are actually quite striking, statistically or otherwise. Both are mobile athletes. Both have talented, veteran running backs to help shoulder the weight. Both have former NFL quarterbacks coaches directing them.
"Nothing seems to bother them," said Pac-12 Network analyst and former UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel, who recruited Hundley. "I think what strikes me about Brett is how he handles all situations. There's no nervousness or trepidation. If he misses a pass, it's a one-clap and back to the huddle.
"Kevin Hogan is a very good athlete. Also a lot of maturity. And he's even more dangerous when he gets outside of the pocket."
In the month of November, Hundley has completed 70.9 percent of his throws for 1,044 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions. Hogan has completed 72.2 for 809 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions.
Of the aforementioned youngsters, Hogan is the only one in a pro-style offense, but it's his athleticism that helped him work his way onto the field before eventually overtaking Josh Nunes on the depth chart. Head coach David Shaw worked out a zone-read option package for Hogan, and the more time he got on the field, the better he looked in practice. Shaw eventually gave him the starting role.
Since getting his first extended playing time at Colorado , he has gone 3-0 as a starter, beaten three ranked teams, won at Autzen and won at the Rose Bowl. Freshmen aren't supposed to do that. They aren't supposed to win their first career road start in Eugene.
For the fourth consecutive week, he'll be starting against a top-25 program. In the Cardinal-Bruins Round 1 matchup -- which Stanford won 35-17 -- Hogan was an efficient 15-of-22 for 160 yards and a touchdown.
And the more work he gets, the more confident Shaw becomes.
"We don't have handcuffs on him anymore," Shaw said. "We can audible. We can change plays. We can give him the full complement.
"The last few weeks, he's been pretty much the same. Not perfect, but gosh, he's so instinctive. When to run, when not to run. When to slide in the pocket and let the ball go. When to throw it with touch and when to throw it hard. He's not playing like a redshirt freshmen. He's playing like a guy beyond his years. We've been able to put more audibles on his plate because he's handled those so well and adjusting the protection and running game checks. Those things have gone so well that we don't worry about what we give him. We've developed comfort in him. Whereas he's stayed the same. We just feel more and more comfortable giving him more as time goes on."
And Hundley has been the model of maturity. Media policies vary from school to school; UCLA players have breakout sessions with the media after games. At first, the horde storms Hundley with cameras in tow. Then the writers. Then the pack thins. And thins. And Hundley is usually the last to leave the media room -- making sure every question has been answered. I know this as fact because twice this season, he and I have closed up the media room.
"It's part of the job of being a quarterback and representing your team, but this is also who I am," Hundley said. "I was raised well. My parents did a great job. This is all a blessing. I'm so happy to be here and feel so blessed to be in the position that I'm in that you can't take any part of this for granted."
And now, here they both are, pushing their respective teams to within one game of the ultimate conference goal -- a date at the Granddaddy.