A week after dealing with a decimated defensive line against Utah, Stanford endured a trio of injury scares against UCLA this past Saturday. Now, though, it appears that the clouds are passing: The Cardinal is on the mend health-wise, perhaps quickly enough to be close to full strength for the November 7 showdown with Oregon.
Devon Cajuste suffered an ugly fall Saturday, but David Shaw revealed that the receiver's knee injury produced no structural damage.
"It's probably a little more than a hard-to-deal-with bone bruise," he said.
Cajuste sat out Tuesday's practice because he is still experiencing some pain in the affected knee, but he'll be eligible to travel with the team to Oregon State if he suits back up on either Wednesday or Thursday. If that doesn't happen, a return for the Oregon game is very likely, since that will come after a bye week.
Meanwhile, Henry Anderson is making steady progress in his recovery from a week two knee injury. The defensive end watched the Cardinal's contest against UCLA from defensive coordinator Derek Mason's booth and walked limped-free afterward. Fitted with a brace on his left knee, Anderson worked balance and agility drills with sports performance director Shannon Turley while the rest of the team scrimmaged Tuesday. He's due back for the Oregon contest at the soonest, though Shaw did indicate that Stanford may have to wait until the November 16 game at USC for No. 91's services. Last season, Anderson was instrumental in the Cardinal's domination of the line of scrimmage at Autzen Stadium, so the team could certainly use him sooner than the trip to Los Angeles.
Shaw believes Turley's rigorous rehabilitation training and practice acclimatization will allow Anderson to be at or near 100 percent effectiveness the moment he enters his first game back.
"We have a great track record of returning players 100 percent ready to go," he said.
Kicker Jordan Williamson, who strained a leg muscle in practice last week and missed the UCLA game, is again questionable for the Cardinal's trip to Corvallis. At the very worst, Shaw seemed confident that he'd be ready after the bye for Oregon.
Defensive end Ben Gardner discussed the recurring arm injury that has been plaguing him since Stanford played Washington, though he declined to detail what's wrong.
"It's very painful at times," he said. "My arm just kind of shuts down. You have to wait for it to come back."
Shifting Toward Montgomery
Ty Montgomery entered last weekend's contest having recorded two consecutive games with nearly 300 all-purpose yards, so UCLA was determined to prevent him from beating them with explosive plays. Shaw said that Stanford faced more Cover 2 defense than it has seen in several years. That curtailed Montgomery's production (five catches, 50 yards), but opened the field for other receivers. Cajuste's seven-catch, 109-yard effort led the way, while Kodi Whitfield's two catches included the go-ahead score and possibly the most spectacular grab in school history.
Kodi's father Bob Whitfield, an All-American offensive lineman at Stanford in the early 1990s, was in attendance for his son's one-handed effort. When he first saw Kodi after the game, he grilled him about other details regarding his performance before even addressing the catch.
"How'd you miss that block on 97 power?" he asked.
The elder Whitfield, by the way, was frequently on campus last year completing his Stanford degree in Economics. Sam Schwartzstein and Khalil Wilkes, the two most recent Cardinal starting centers, both took classes with Whitfield. Bob walked in graduation and received his diploma on Father's Day -- with Kodi in attendance.
Jordan Pratt, 28, is another Stanford undergraduate who's older than most of his peers at the school. The Oregon native, called "Pratt Daddy" by his teammates, played baseball in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system for eight years before calling it quits and coming to the actual Farm. He was throwing partners with presumptive 2013 Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw in instructional leagues. Pratt, who is majoring in Atmosphere and Energy Engineering, plans to to co-term in a fifth year, so he'll be 31 years old when he finishes his Stanford studies.
Pratt is also benefiting from the Cardinal's new emphasis on the wide receiver position. His 13-yard reception Saturday knifed through the UCLA zone and gave Stanford just what it needed at the time: a possession catch to diffuse some of the tight pressure on Montgomery and Cajuste.
"It was soft four [coverage]," he said. "When I saw it, and when I saw the linebacker inside, I was like, 'All right, I'm getting the ball here.'"
After being criticized for questionable play-calling at the end of the Cardinal's loss to Utah, Shaw has taken some heat lately for crawling into a shell offensively, particularly in third down situations. Against UCLA, Stanford ran the ball numerous times in typical passing scenarios despite the fact that quarterback Kevin Hogan (18-25, 227 yards, 33 yards rushing) was playing one of the most efficient games of his career.
"I'm going to get second guessed [for my play calls], and I'm fine with that, because they typically lead to wins," Shaw said.
He explained that he didn't want to let UCLA unleash Anthony Barr on a pass rush that could presumably cause a turnover with Stanford leading by only a possession late. He said that he would rather punt and put the burden to seal the game on his team's defense, which was performing well Saturday.
"It's not sexy football," Shaw said. "But it's smart football."
Stanford's defense faces another stiff test at Oregon State this weekend. This time, an almost exclusively aerial attack will try to derail the Cardinal. The Beavers' Sean Mannion leads the nation with 427 passing yards per game, while his favorite receiver Brandin Cooks is tops with 168 receiving yards per contest and 12 touchdowns. Shaw said the duo successfully connects on 55 percent of its deep ball attempts, a prodigious clip. These impressive numbers, combined with Oregon State's 6-1 record, have moved Mannion onto the fringe of the Heisman Trophy conversation.
"It's the Pac-12, it seems that we face guys who are in the Heisman conversation almost every week," Gardner said. "Our job is to make sure they're not in the Heisman conversation after we're done playing them."
- Reserve nickel back Ronnie Harris received praise for his stellar special teams coverage work this season. "He was unreal," Shaw said.
- Cornerback Alex Carter is fine health-wise, too. He missed some time against UCLA after he was kicked by another player. Shaw says he's "a bit sore" but will be 100 percent Saturday.
- Shaw says he does not vote in the Coaches' Poll. "As a coach, you can't vote with a clear conscience. You can't do it," he said. "It's a farce."
- Whitfield went to Loyola High School in Los Angeles with Barr,
the UCLA star linebacker. The two have not stayed in contact,
though. "He was kind of mad when I signed with Stanford,"
Whitfield said. Barr
also wasn't thrilled after Whitfield's catch, which was
SportsCenter's top play of the day before Shane Victorino's
grand slam sent the Boston Red Sox to the World Series. "I guess
it was kind of a big game for them," Whitfield admitted with a smile.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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