It's hard not to be ecstatic right now as a Cardinalmaniac™. Your Stanford Cardinal just put together their first back-to-back conference wins of the last two years. They have evened the season record at 4-4 and mathematically have a 50/50 shot at becoming bowl eligible. The offense appears to have been uncorked, putting up season highs in both total offense and rushing yards. Stanford just put together three passing plays longer than 30 yards for the first time this year, and at the same time they ripped off their longest run of 2003.
Man, oh, man. You can see a bright rainbow through the blanket of showers pouring down on Stanford Stadium tonight...
Until you take a look at the procession of the walking wounded emerge from the locker room after the game. Then it hits you: this team appears to have paid a serious physical price for this win. With three games remaining to win two and get bowl-eligible, is the roster too depleted right now by injuries?
"We had a number of injuries out there today," head coach Buddy Teevens lamented after the 38-27 victory. "Hopefully everyone heals well overnight. It doesn't hurt as much with the win."
That optimistic stamp characteristically applied to the post-game injury report masks some troubling concerns. Foremost the running back position, where just one tailback finished the game injury free.
Fans across the planet are asking tonight why redshirt junior starting tailback Kenneth Tolon did not see action tonight, though they probably missed his one repetition he took on the offense's first play. The New Mexico native was in the backfield when Chris Lewis faked the handoff and scrambled for the game's first score, but Tolon afterward revealed that he was never going to carry the ball on this day.
"I was in as a decoy," he explains. "I knew coming into the game I wasn't going to carry the ball. My thumb is hurt and my ankle isn't right either."
Teevens afterward commented that Tolon's thumb injury indeed precludes him from carrying a football right now. It is unknown how soon he could be back.
J.R. Lemon had a long and productive afternoon, carrying the ball a career-high 34 times, nearly twice his previous single-game high of 18 rushes. When it came time in the second half to spell Lemon as the offense sought to run out the clock and play conservative turnover-free football, fourth-string Gerald Commissiong came into the game. That showing highlights the fact that true freshman David Marrero is not well, which both he and Teevens confirmed afterward.
"I don't know exactly why, but I was born with an extra muscle high on my calf just below my knee," the 5'9" freshman begins. "It's called the gastrock. It flamed up on me a little in the preseason, and then when I was hit in the Washington game it really got banged up. It sent a shockwave through my knee. It's been hurt off and on since then. It comes and goes. We're trying to figure out the best way to treat it right now. I think I'm getting better, but on any given day it depends how it feels."
As big a disappointment that Stanford fans, teammates and coaches feel at the inability to get Marrero on the field, his individual frustrations are palpable. "I've been banged up at times when there were some real opportunities to use me," the Ft. Lauderdale freshman bemoans. "I'm disappointed that I can't play more, but just have to do the best with the situation at hand. I still hope I can get better and play out this year strong."
In case you are wondering, Marrero has already played in too many games this year to apply for a medical redshirt. Though not at 100%, he still carried the ball six times today for 17 yards. And those carries came in the rain, when Arizona State knew that Stanford was going to run the ball and run time off the clock. His first two carries after entering the game, in Stanford's first possession of the fourth quarter, each picked up six yards.
With Marrero so gimpy on that knee, though, Teevens did go to Commissiong for eight carries in the game. Though not as explosive as Marrero or as proven as either Tolon or Lemon, he is a healthy and viable option to backup one of the veterans. Well, he was a healthy backup. Inside the final two minutes of the game Commissiong was carrying the ball in Stanford's final possession to finish off the game. On a 2nd and 6 situation he took the ball on a cutback to his left and went down as he rolled his ankle. He had to be helped off the field and could not return. Lemon had to run the ball the next two plays to complete the contest.
At this time, we do not know the extent or severity of the injury to Commissiong's ankle, and in all likelihood we won't truly know his availability until later this week in practices. Even if it were a mild sprain, a player like that would typically be held out for the first practice of the week on Tuesday. Wednesday and Thursday will be the practices to watch, not just for "the Commish" but for all these ailing running backs.
In a world where Stanford might be down to just J.R. Lemon, you might have the thought cross your mind of using freshman Jason Evans in these last three games. As unwise as that might be to burn his redshirt so late in the year, it is not even possible. Evans tore his meniscus a couple weeks ago in practice and just had repair surgery Friday. He will be out for quite some time.
The other position group that is in trouble right now is the offensive line interior. Redshirt sophomore center Brian Head was already lost for the year with a torn ACL and MCL in his knee, which forced fifth-year senior Drew Caylor to take the reins at the position. Today starting redshirt freshman right guard Jeff Edwards went down in the first quarter with a knee injury, which sent him to the training table. He later returned to the sidelines with an imobilizing brace on his left knee, moving around with the aid of crutches.
The best injury information at this point is that he strained his MCL, but I do not know what the prognosis will be. In his absence, classmate Josiah Vinson saw the most action of his young career, garnering more snaps in this game than in the combined total of the first seven games of the year.
"Josiah Vinson stepped in and didn't miss a beat," offers Teevens with his vote of confidence."
It is also noteworthy that David Beall saw some time at right guard in the second half, which is a smart play by OL coach Steve Morton. Should Edwards be out for any remaining games, Beall would be the primary reserve at either guard spot. He played both the left and ride side today.
Perhaps the most violent injury of the day came on one of the most spectacular plays for Stanford, when true freshman wideout Evan Moore scored on a 33-yard fade pattern in the endzone. Moore made a brilliant play on the ball and came down with it depsite tight coverage, but his left leg came down and caught on the grass awkwardly as the weight of his body moved in a different direction. He managed to hold onto the ball despite what must have been an excrutiating injury to his left ankle. He also came down badly on his left shoulder. Moore could not walk off the field under his own power and was taken away on a cart. He returned later with ice bags on both his left ankle and shoulder.
The exact nature of the injuries will be better understood after some tests, but at this juncture you do have to be thankful that he did not tear up his knee, which looked at first to be the injury when reviewing the play.
The defensive side of the roster stayed much more healthy in this game. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Michael Craven did leave the game at one point in the third quarter and had what looked like his knee checked out. But he was A-OK and returned to play out the rest of the game. Despite the slick conditions and a four-hour game, the beaten and battered defensive tackle crew incredibly escaped the game without any new or aggravated injuries.
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