On New Year’s Day 2014 College Football gets set to kick off its 100th Rose Bowl as the Stanford Cardinal take on the Michigan State Spartans. The Spartans are coming off an impressive victory over Ohio State 34-24, knocking off the then number two ranked Buckeyes. A big confidence boost for the Spartans, something they hope will spark another inspiring performance in Pasadena. The season for the Spartans has been primarily relying on the defense to hold opponents in the second half, allowing just over 12 points per game this season, many would promote the Spartans to have a stout defensive front, often loading the box to stop the run, forcing teams to pass early and often. For Stanford the focus has been on establishing the ground game early, relying heavily on the play of Tyler Gaffney, the ground and pound game has been the bread and butter of this Cardinal offense. With that said it is hard not to notice the improvements of the Cardinal passing game lately, as Kevin Hogan has been stretching the field, hitting his receivers in stride.
The confidence of Kevin Hogan should be sky high going into Pasadena, even if one of his recent performances was against Cal, one of the worst teams in the nation, the game against Arizona State spoke volumes for his ability to have an efficient all-around performance, passing for 277 yards, averaging 15.4 yards a pass. Hogan didn’t need many attempts to get the yardage because he and the Cardinal receivers stretched the field, helping to spread the ASU defense, in effect allowing the Stanford offensive line to open even bigger holes for Gaffney, who exploded out the gate with a 69 yard touchdown run early in the game, totaling 133 yards and 3 touchdowns, all of which he scored in the first half. Hogan did his job, he took care of the football and distributed it with precision. Kevin Hogan has displayed his own athleticism through his ability to take off and run with success. With Devon Cajuste looking like he is 100 percent healthy again, Hogan has been able to utilize the entire field, which has excelled the individual play of Ty Montgomery, as he has been able to rack up big time yards after each catch.
When it comes to matching up against the Michigan State defense, a defense only allowing an average of 12.7 points per game, we must review of Michigan States season. This Michigan Spartans team has only faced 3 top 25 schools, finishing 2-1, they did allow 28 points two times to Indiana and Nebraska, and both unranked at the time. In their one loss to Notre Dame they did manage to hold the Fighting Irish to 17 points, these are the same Fighting Irish the Cardinal beat 27-20 back on November 30th. The Spartans other two victories against ranked opponents were against Michigan and Ohio State, both at home and both considered rivals to Michigan State.
Stanford on the other hand has had a much difficult road, as the Cardinal have faced 7 top 25 opponents, finishing 7-0, which included beating Washington, Oregon State, Oregon, UCLA, Notre Dame and ASU twice; once at home and once on the road for the PAC-12 Championship in Tempe. In fact the only reason Michigan State is ranked higher then Stanford is because of their opposing regular season records, Spartans being 11-1, and the Cardinal 10-2, but anyone who really knows college football and matchups knows this is a complete mis-match. Michigan State can put 8 in the box and the Cardinal will still run at will and open up the offense even more so to allow Kevin Hogan to pick a part Michigan States secondary with ease. The Spartans, being Big Ten Champions have not faced a running game as explosive as Stanford’s. Ohio State may have ran 273 yards in the Big Ten Championship, but the Cardinal running game is a completely different animal, this is a pro-style offense that loves to line up in power formations and dares you to match them. In fact the Buckeyes success only assures me that the Cardinal will have no issues running the football and developing a pass threat with Hogan delivering to Montgomery, and Cajuste, connecting via play action.
The battles will be won up front, Stanford’s line is as big, strong, and tough as the fullback Ryan Hewitt, whom lives to get physical with linebackers, and let’s not forget the Cardinal have one of the best running backs in College Football in Tyler Gaffney. I’m not saying Michigan States defense is not tough enough, or strong, what I am saying is that the Spartans have not faced an offense with the power run game that Stanford brings to the table and if the first time is in the Rose Bowl, the Spartans will be overwhelmed from the start to finish.