QB play could determine Pac-12 battle

USA TODAY Sports, Getty Images

Quarterbacks Kevin Hogan (left) and Keith Price will be the focus Saturday night in Palo Alto.Stanford will have revenge on its mind Saturday against Washington (10:30 p.m. ET/ESPN) since the Huskies dealt the Cardinal their only Pac-12 loss last season.

The focus on this year’s game will be on the quarterbacks as Stanford’s Kevin Hogan leads a much improved downfield passing game while Washington’s Keith Price has been getting better protection in the pocket.

Here’s a breakdown of both quarterbacks.

Kevin Hogan

Hogan would be hard-pressed to improve his team’s record. Since he took over the starting job last season against Oregon State, the Cardinal are 9-0.

That hasn’t been enough -- yet -- to earn Hogan regard among elite quarterbacks in the country, but it might soon be hard to leave him out.

First there are the statistical improvements. Stanford’s completion percentage, yards per passing attempt and third-down conversion rate through the air have all been boosted.

Kevin Hogan Starts vs Ranked Opponents

But the most impressive part might be the slate of opponents he’s run through. Five ranked opponents in those nine games (5-0 record), and that doesn’t even count Stanford’s Rose Bowl opponent last year, the Wisconsin Badgers, who weren’t ranked for that game.

Hogan has been superb against that tougher competition, posting a well-above-average QBR (at least 69 in each game, with a QBR of 50 considered average) except for the win against Oregon.

Keith Price

Through five weeks, Price has a Total QBR of 81.2, which is 40.3 points higher than last season. Price has the highest completion percentage in the Pac-12 and is one of four qualified quarterbacks in the FBS to improve their Total QBR from 2012 by more than 40 points.

One reason for Price’s improved numbers rests on the health of his offensive line. After injuries forced Washington’s projected starters to miss a combined 40 starts last season, the same unit has started every game together in 2013.

With continuity on the offensive line, Price has been sacked only three times this season, after taking 37 sacks in 2012, sixth most in the FBS.

Price has been under pressure (hurried, knocked down or sacked) 25 times in four games this season. In 2012, Price was pressured 114 times in 13 games, third most among AQ conference quarterbacks.

Keith Price Passing vs Blitz Last 2 Seasons

With the better protection, opponents are not getting to Price when they blitz, and he has been able to take advantage. Price has completed 82.1 percent of his passes against the blitz this season, the highest percentage among AQ quarterbacks (minimum 20 attempts).

The Huskies’ line has a tough test this week against Stanford, which has one of the nation’s best defensive units.

The Cardinal lead the nation in sacks (66) and percentage of rushes that gained zero or negative yards (33.7 percent) since the start of last season. They have 196 total pressures during that time, most among AQ defenses, and have had at least seven pressures in every conference game.