"Bittersweet" is the word of the evening here in Annapolis, after Stanford won its first road game on the East Coast since January 1, 1993. The Cardinal, however, paid a heavy price with injuries to numerous key players. Two starters are potentially lost for the year.
The most visible and painful came in the final minute of the first half. Evan Moore caught and ran for 33 yards on the opening play of a 58-yard hurry-up drive for the Cardinal. It was an outstanding play that propelled Stanford into field position for a possible go-ahead score and much-needed momentum. But as Moore ran out of bounds at the Navy 29-yard line, he was tackled and pulled to the ground by a defender. The 6'7" wideout had his right leg buckle under him as he was awkwardly pulled down. Moore remained on the ground for several minutes before he was carted off the field.
The junior wide receiver was taken to the hospital, where his dislocated hip was numbed and put back into place. He was expected to fly home on the team charter tonight. No official pronouncement was given for the timeframe of his injury and recovery, but indications are that he could be lost for the year.
Redshirt junior free safety Trevor Hooper also sustained a serious injury, this one to his left shoulder, which kept him out for the remainder of the game. Afterward, Walt Harris gave a grim outlook for both players - all but declaring the end of their respective seasons.
"It looks like they are going to be out for a long time," he said somberly. "We don't know how long."
"You feel terrible when you see a family member carted off like that," said fellow receiver Gerren Crochet of Moore's injury. "There are so many clichés about how football is a war, and you have to protect each other like brothers. But a lot of those clichés really come true. When you have so much toil with a guy... You know, superficially, people think that because Evan and I play and compete at the same position, we can't be friends. On other teams, we wouldn't be friends, but at Stanford, it's not like that at all. We have a lot of compassion for Evan. We really wanted to get after it - for him."
Crochet missed time recently in the Cardinal's preseason training camp with an injury of his own, which played a part in his losing the starting job at wide receiver he earned in the spring. Moore was the man who surged past him, with a superb summer and fall camp of practices and improvement. When Moore was lost tonight, it was Crochet who stepped in.
"At the receiver position, we feel like we're so deep that any guy can play," the fifth-year senior comments. "We have guys who have not been in games, but who we would all feel comfortable putting in there. In one way, we are concerned about Evan, but when one guy goes down, another is there ready to produce."
"He's a great receiver. He does things really well for this offense. Those are big shoes to fill," Crochet adds. But we've prepared very, very hard in the off-season - I feel confident that I can come in and do the job, too."
Replacing Hooper in the defensive backfield was classmate David Lofton. In an ironic parallel, free safety was another position where we saw a tight battle in the spring and recently in fall camp. Hooper ultimately won the starting job, but Lofton now has to step in after a season-threatening injury to his teammate.
These two injuries were unexpected and freakish, but there were two areas where we thought injuries might come today. Both unfortunately came true. On the offensive line, four out of the five positions have endured significant injuries in recent weeks. The last two players to recover and return to the lineup were offensive tackles Jeff Edwards and Jon Cochran. Playing on the road, in heat and humidity, after suffering other injuries - well, that gave us the feeling that one or more offensive linemen could go down today. Unfortunately, that played out. Edwards injured his right ankle in the second half and did not return. He left the field on crutches afterward, though now timeframe has yet been given for when he might return. Redshirt freshman Allen Smith, who made great strides this summer and during training camp, played the remainder of the game at left tackle in Edwards' place.
The greatest susceptibility, however, for injuries in this Navy game was on defense. It was well-publicized and discussed by Stanford coaches and players leading up to the game that the Midshipmen on offense make a lot of cut blocks. That is, diving low at defenders to cut their legs out from under them and take them out of the play. The play is legal, provided that another offensive player is not simultaneously engaged with that defender, and provided that the block does not come from behind.
Stanford's two leading nose tackles, fifth-year senior starter Babatunde Oshinowo and redshirt junior backup Matt McClernan, both sustained injuries from those cut blocks. In the span of less than five minutes of real time (not game clock), both were taken down and had to leave the field. McClernan's injury was to his right knee and visibly looked more serious, given that he could not walk off the field under his own power. He was unable to return. No detailed diagnosis was given for the exact nature of the knee injury, but he does not look like he will play football very soon.
Oshinowo sprained both of his ankles at the hands of Navy's cut blocks. To add insult to his injuries, the plays were not clean.
"We knew that we were going to face the cut blocks. We prepared for it, and we've faced it before. As the game wore on, we got better at playing it," Oshinowo explains. "The problem we had was when they did more of the backside cutting below the knee, which is supposed to be illegal. But I guess they didn't see it. That's when I hurt my ankles. Identical plays where I played off the first cut and then the next person came from behind me and hit me in the ankle."
Not once, but twice did Oshinowo go down and had to be helped off the field. Both times he rallied and returned, though he was able to play very sparingly late in the game after the second injury.
"He really showed a lot of courage," praised Harris of his fifth-year senior's tenacity.
"I was really upset, but losing my cool wouldn't really do anything," Oshinowo offers. "I had a few choice words for some of those guys, but nothing really serious. I had to just get back in the game."
When both nose tackles were out of the game, redshirt sophomore David Jackson initially played in the middle of Stanford's 3-4 defense. Later, defensive line coach Dave Tipton moved redshirt freshman Gustav Rydstedt from defensive end to nose tackle. Rydstedt was expected this year to play as a reserve in the defensive line rotation, but he was thrust into a starting role at left defensive end after fifth-year senior Casey Carroll tore his ACL during camp. Rydstedt tonight had to not only start in his first ever college football game - just 13 months after he came to the United States from Sweden - but he also had to switch positions mid-stream.
Adjustments had to be made by a number of players at a number of positions this evening. Nobody wishes for these circumstances, but the fact remains that the Cardinal showed a lot of resiliency in the face of injuries and adversity. That resiliency is what Walt Harris felt was missing when he came to this team, and much of his work the last nine months worked toward forging it in this team. We will have some shifts to watch and depth chart adjustments to track this coming week in practice, but for now it is worth focusing on the triumph of body and spirit in this 41-38 victory.
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