Stanford continues its remarkable offensive turnaround

Behind Kevin Hogan, Stanford has put up more than 40 points in three straight games. Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

STANFORD, Calif. -- Ever since Andrew Luck went to the NFL following the 2011 season, consistency -- or a lack thereof -- had been a vexing problem for the Stanford offense.

The Cardinal won Pac-12 championships in 2012 and 2013, but mercurial offensive play led to painful losses in both of those seasons. The team dropped five games in 2014 despite again featuring the league's best defense. The end of that year, though, saw a drastic change: Stanford ripped off a 38 points-per-game hot streak to close it.

With quarterback Kevin Hogan returning alongside an experienced offensive line, speedy running backs and hulking receiving targets, optimists predicted continued 2015 success.

But then, another stomach-lifting plunge on the roller coaster: Six points and only 240 total yards in the season opener at Northwestern. Stanford mustered only 3.9 yards per play in that one, one of the worst outputs of the Jim Harbaugh-David Shaw era.

The dark days had returned with a vengeance. The Cardinal's stock dropped about as quickly as it would have on the market in 1929.

Until the next violent upswing -- one which Stanford has steadily built on over the course of four games. The Cardinal's scoring output over that span -- 31, 41, 42, 55 -- has only increased, and the offense has averaged 506 yards per game.

Hello, consistency.

"I talked to the guys about how we had our one game earlier in the year where we did not play our best football," David Shaw said after Stanford rolled up 55 points and 570 yards in their shellacking of Arizona. "So we lost our leeway there. We have to play our best football from here on out."

The sense of urgency seems to have lit a fire under Stanford that few could have seen coming exactly a month ago, when the offense found substitution penalties two more times than they did the end zone (0). The first half of the ensuing win against UCF was also sluggish, but the Cardinal have roared ahead full throttle since then.

The past two games have marked the first time in the Jim Harbaugh-Shaw era that the Cardinal have surpassed 300 yards rushing in consecutive contests. That's perhaps the most telling statistic of this surge, as it implies that Stanford is clicking at all positions -- from the offensive line and a big stable of running backs, all the way to a quarterback making the right checks and receivers securing crisp blocks.

Heck, even quarterbacks are blocking: Backup Keller Chryst entered for a play just to pancake a defender Saturday, much to the delight of the Stanford Stadium crowd.

"He reminded me of Sunshine in 'Remember the Titans,'" starter Kevin Hogan laughed. "He was just out there leading the way."

Running back Remound Wright, whose seven touchdowns in three games have played an excellent complement to Christian McCaffrey's nation-leading 1,149 all-purpose yards, says that Stanford's confidence has snowballed.

"The feeling is that no one can stop us if we execute," he said. "We reacted to adversity [at Northwestern], and now we know we can methodically do our thing down the field, and we'll be all right."

Hogan has been the central glue to that. Shaw said that the fifth-year senior is playing the best football of his career, and the numbers bear out that claim. Hogan's 9.6 yards per attempt rank him sixth nationally -- and that total includes the Northwestern debacle, in which he averaged a career low 4.4 yards per attempt. Since that game, Hogan has become the only quarterback in the country to average over 11 yards per attempt in four consecutive contests.

Here's more: He's done it on a bum ankle.

"We need this bye week," Shaw said. "Our quarterback needs time to heal."

Not a typical comment following a nearly flawless 17-for-19 performance, right? But it's a fair one: Stanford feels they won't approach their offensive ceiling until Hogan can run at full capacity again.

"The biggest thing with Kevin is his ability to affect the game as a runner," Shaw said.

If Stanford can successfully integrate that component of the offense with what they're already doing so well now, it'll be fair to not only award them a medal of consistency, but also to make comparisons to the prolific attacks of the Luck era. Saturday, in fact, marked the first time since 2011 that the Cardinal scored more than 40 points in three straight games.

"We've still got a lot of stuff we need to work on, McCaffrey said. "There's so much more we can do. But that's exciting for us. There's still a lot left in the tank."