STANFORD, Calif. – Kevin Hogan had plenty of reasons to smile despite a sloppy start in Stanford's spring game that ended with his first loss — albeit unofficial — as the starting quarterback.
At least two of them, in fact: Ty Montgomery and Michael Rector.
After losing his top tight ends and wide receivers, Hogan's new targets showed off a vertical passing game that has been sorely lacking on The Farm. Both caught touchdown passes from Hogan before the defense rallied for a 40-34 victory over the offense in the annual Cardinal & White Game on Saturday.
The defense received points depending on where it stopped the offense on the field.
"They made me look good," said Hogan, who threw for 170 yards and two touchdowns. "In the end, this was just a reward for all the hard work we put in this spring session. I think we got a lot better as an offensive unit, receivers and tight ends. I thought we really grew together in this session."
The reigning Rose Bowl and Pac-12 champions might not be so depleted at receiver after all.
Last year's tight ends, All-American Zach Ertz and 6-foot-8 Levine Toilolo, watched from the sideline along with running back Stepfan Taylor as they prepare for the NFL draft. Receivers Drew Terrell and Jamal-Rashad Patterson also are gone. Together, the quintet accounted for 18 of Stanford's 19 touchdowns receiving last season.
Hogan said an emphasis for him this spring was not only to develop a bond with his receivers, but also to expand the offense's deep passing game. Hogan completed 14 of 23 passes and admitted he didn't feel great about his performance, though that was in large part because the offense hardly ran the ball for the glorified scrimmage.
Instead, his receivers stole the spotlight, including a 44-yarder TD catch by Rector, who juggled the ball between two defenders before hauling in the pass at full extension.
"You can't duplicate that speed," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "We need that speed out there."
Shaw stuck to the unconventional format he implemented last year: offense (Cardinal) vs. defense (White) to give a truer indication of which side won.
The defense received four points for a stop and seven for a turnover before the offense crossed midfield. If the defense had a stop or turnover after the offense crossed the 50-yard line, it earned two or three points, respectively.
A missed field goal also was worth one point for the defense, though Jordan Williamson connected on both of his attempts from 42 and 45 yards — the second on a low snap that punter Ben Ryhne recovered just in time.
Shaw, the two-time Pac-12 Conference Coach of the Year, has talked about finding a more balanced passing offense besides the heavy tight end packages that have become synonymous with Stanford. He seemed satisfied at this stage in the spring, when often it's difficult to judge development.
"I think we have a better opportunity to be more versatile, to where we can go two tight ends or three tight ends. But we can also go three and four receivers," Shaw said. "In a perfect world, that's where I would love to be. We used to talk when we first got here, we used to talk about our games feeling like a hockey game — I want line changes."
Shaw's goal is also helped by health.
Rector tore the PCL ligament in his right knee in the early part of last summer and ended up redshirting. Montgomery, who caught 24 passes for 350 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman, was sidelined with various leg injuries last season and often looked hobbled when he did play.
Jordan Pratt, the former minor league baseball player, also caught five passes for 78 yards and a TD in the spring game. Jeff Trojan had 41 yards on six receptions, and Davis Dudchock had five catches for 36 yards.
"It's amazing and special in my eyes that every single wideout wants to make the big play and wants to be the playmaker," Montgomery said.
Linebacker Shayne Skov anchored a defense that returns nine starters that ranked in the top five in yards rushing allowed (97), sacks (4.07) and tackles for loss (8.86) per game. Though both sides felt like winners, the always-animated Skov raised his hand when told that Hogan had never lost any game at Stanford.
"We like to think of collective success and defeat here," Skov said, smiling.
The spring game had a decidedly different feel than a year ago, and not just because it returned to the Stanford campus after heading north to cozy Kezar Stadium in San Francisco's famed Golden Gate Park.
Josh Nunes didn't beat out Brett Nottingham at quarterback until August, and he lost the job to Hogan after nine games. Hogan, a soon-to-be redshirt sophomore, carried the Cardinal to five straight wins as the starter, including at Oregon and in the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin — the program's first victory in "The Granddaddy of Them All" in 41 years.
The only quarterback competition this year was for the backup job. Evan Crower, heading into his junior season, looks cemented at that spot after completing 26 of 35 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns.
Shaw also said Nunes likely won't be ready for fall practices because of an injury to his throwing arm that sidelined him all spring.