STANFORD, Calif. — The feeling of disappointment and despair in the locker room after losing 17-13 at Washington last season is something that Stanford players will never forget.
What happened on the field is even more painful to recall.
The offense has undergone a major makeover under quarterback Kevin Hogan since that setback in Seattle, and players and coaches believe it will make all the difference when the fifth-ranked Cardinal (4-0, 2-0) host the No. 15 Huskies (4-0, 1-0) in a critical Pac-12 North showdown Saturday night.
“Kevin’s mobility changes things,” Stanford coach David Shaw said Tuesday. “He allows us to be a much more diverse offense.”
A year ago, Stanford failed to score an offensive touchdown against Washington. Former quarterback Josh Nunes completed 18 of 37 passes for 170 yards and an interception, often throwing at the feet of receivers or misfiring completely. The Cardinal, who ran for a school-record 446 yards in a 65-21 win over Washington in 2011, were held to 65 yards on the ground.
“Definitely not an experience I want to have again,” left tackle Andrus Peat said.
Hogan saw his first action in that loss, carrying the ball once for 5 yards on a read-option keeper. This time, he won’t be as much of a spectator.
Hogan is 9-0 as a starter since taking over for Nunes. He has completed 63 percent of his passes for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns with three interceptions this season. He also is the team’s third-leading rusher with 124 yards.
Stanford has shifted from an offense that relies on short and intermediate passes to tight ends to one that goes deep to wide receivers who are continually creating separation.
Hogan threw for 286 yards and three touchdowns in a 55-17 victory on the same field in Seattle last week against Washington State, showing just how far the offense has progressed in a year’s time.
“It’s something that you need to be able to prove to a defense before they start to respect that. With the run game that we’ve shown in previous years, we haven’t had that type of passing game,” said wide receiver Ty Montgomery, who leads the team with 20 receptions for 327 yards and four touchdowns.
The Huskies, under first-year defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox last season, also caught the Cardinal off guard.
Shaw said Washington’s defense did some “different things against us that they hadn’t shown before” and Stanford failed to make the proper adjustments during the game.
The Cardinal can take some positives out of last year’s game.
They sacked mobile quarterback Keith Price three times and tallied seven tackles for loss, though Washington was dealing with several injuries to its offensive line, which has since been rebuilt. Trent Murphy also returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown to help Stanford take a 13-3 lead late in the third quarter.
The defense has dominated most of its opponents since — and has not crumbled late like it did against the Huskies when Kasen Williams caught a 35-yard touchdown pass from Price with 4:53 remaining for the winning score.
“We’re older, wiser — I think — at different positions,” Shaw said. “The same guys I think are just better than they were a year ago. Just older and a year wiser, hopefully.”
• Shaw said he was “sad” to hear that Lane Kiffin was fired by Southern California. Jokingly told he was reportedly on USC’s “short list” of candidates, Shaw said: “It might be short, but it’s one person too long.”
• Shaw said that running back Barry Sanders, son of the Hall of Famer with the same name, will continue to have a role each game but is still behind fifth-year seniors Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson, among others. The redshirt freshman ran for a 22-yard touchdown — his first collegiate score — and had a flashy 16-yard reception that made several national highlight shows against Washington State last week.