When Devon Cajuste had to be helped off the field early in the fourth quarter of Stanford's victory over UCLA with an apparent knee injury, it appeared as if the Cardinal might be without one of their most productive offensive weapons for an extended stretch. Cajuste writhed in pain on the field, and had to be carted to the locker room for further evaluation.
But, somehow, Cajuste managed to escape serious injury. Multiple scans revealed zero ligament damage, and the redshirt sophomore could return to play as soon as this weekend.
"There's a chance Devon Cajuste will play this week," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "No ligament damage. His MRI was pretty clean, X-Ray's pretty clean. It's probably a little more than a really hard to deal with bone bruise. But he's feeling better. He actually ran a little bit yesterday. He won't practice today and we're going to put a brace on him and see if he can go the next couple of days. If he can't go, that's fine. He should be ready for Oregon, so should not miss any significant time. There's a chance though he will play this week."
Like Cajuste, kicker Jordan Wiliamson is also questionable for Saturday's contest. Williamson missed the UCLA game after tweaking a muscle in his leg.
"We'll see where he is maybe not today, maybe tomorrow," Shaw said. "See how his progress is going once again. He's close. If he can't go this week there's a good chance he'll go against Oregon."
Defensive end Henry Anderson is also on the mend. Though he won't play this weekend, the redshirt junior could return for the Oregon game.
"Henry Anderson, looking at possibly the earliest maybe Oregon," Shaw said. "Most definitely after Oregon. But he's coming along really, really well. There's a chance he could suit up against Oregon."
Meanwhile, sophomore cornerback Alex Carter, who missed portions of the third and fourth quarter after getting kicked in the leg, is expected to play against Oregon State.
"It's just a bruise," Shaw said. "He'll be fine. He practiced really well today and then got a little sore at the end but he should be 100 percent by Saturday."
Shaw responds to play calling questions: Leading by a touchdown late in the fourth quarter, Stanford's offense went into ultra-conservative mode. Leading 17-10, rather than try and gain a first down through the air, the Cardinal ran Tyler Gaffney on 3rd and 6 with just under four minutes left in the game.
"The goal is to win the game," Shaw said. "If you can exhaust the clock you can exhaust your opponents' timeouts and put them in a position to where they have to throw the ball a lot to try to win the game, you win more than you lose. And dropping back and throwing the ball and trying to get a first down and stopping the clock and letting them have extra time on the clock... Time is not our friend. Time is more important than yards. So, same thing we've always done.
"And sometimes when you load up the box against a big personnel grouping if one guy's out of position, very similar to the third down against Washington we had (where the Huskies' defenders were) all sucked up in there. (Running back Tyler) Gaffney went off tackle. We were trying to get one yard and he walks in for a touchdown. It's the same thing - they roll the dice just like we do. If they pack everybody up there, great, one guy makes a tackle that's beautiful, the clock's running, are you going to take a timeout or not? We're going to punt, we're going to take another minute, almost, off the clock. Otherwise, we get a first down or we crack it and get a touchdown because they have all those guys up in there. It's a time management deal and it's generally worked for me in my career for the last 10 years."
Shaw said that the second-guessing of his late-game, conservative play calls doesn't faze him.
"I'm fine with that because typically they lead to wins," Shaw said. "I don't get enamored with what things look like. I don't get enamored with, 'Hey, maybe if we can try this we can try that.' They also had a lot of corner blitzes, they also had a guy named (Anthony Barr) that we kept under wraps for the most part. I was not going to give that guy an opportunity to get after us and rush the passer on a 3rd and 6 with the game on the line. I'd rather run the clock, punt, and put the ball on our defense. It's not sexy football but it's smart football."
Reflections on Kodi's Catch: Sophomore wide receiver Kodi Whitfield's leaping, one-handed catch was still a popular discussion topic three days after it occurred.
"It was ridiculous," Shaw said. "Absolutely ridiculous. I told him he lost some cool points when he stood up (to celebrate) and dropped the ball. But we'll take the six points. Just a phenomenal catch. It was one of those things that you throw your hand up there and you hope you get a hand on it and can tip it to yourself but rarely does that thing stick. And that thing stuck. It was just an unbelievable catch."
The play was briefly reviewed by the officiating crew to ensure the ball didn't hit the ground. Whitfield was confident the call on the field of a touchdown would stick.
"I knew I had it the whole time," Whitfield said. "I kind of stood up with it and I heard I kind of lost some cool points for not standing up with it completely. But I knew I had it the whole way."
Whitifeld's father, former Stanford and NFL offensive tackle Bob Whitfield, was in the stands during the game. But instead of immediately congratulating his son on the tremendous play, Bob Whitfield first criticized Kodi for a missed block.
"The funny thing is after the game he didn't acknowledge it at first," Kodi Whitfield said. "He was like, 'How did you miss that block on 97 power?' He's always hard on me about my blocking."
After the game, Whitfield briefly caught up with several former Loyola High School teammates, linebacker Anthony Barr and quarterback Jerry Neuheisel.
"Jerry was like, 'You never made a catch for me at Loyola,'" Whitfield said. "It's always cool to see those guys after the game."
A potent passing duo: Oregon State's passing offense is arguably the best in the country. In quarterback Sean Mannion and receiver Brandin Cooks, the Beavers' offense features the nation's leading passer and leading receiver.
"The way that Cooks is playing right now, there's nobody that he hasn't gotten behind," David Shaw said. "They've tried to double cover him, they've tried to play off of him and even when they've played off him he still runs past them. The quarterback is playing so much better than he's ever played. He's always had the talent and the ability but he's playing so composed and throwing the ball so accurately."
Who will get the primary responsibility of covering Cooks?
"Everybody," Shaw said. "He's everybody's responsibility. There's no other way around it. Safeties, corners, nickels, everybody has to be aware of where he is and try to keep him in front of us."
Mannion is a prolific passer, but he's not an elite athlete in the mold of Brett Hundley. Stanford's pass rush will attempt to capitalize on that to slow the Beavers' passing game, but it won't be easy.
"Hopefully we can have some effect on that," Shaw said. "They've got a great play action scheme, the offensive line is playing extremely well. They make you play honest. Coach Riley has every screen known to man, every kind of screen you can possibly imagine, so you have to account for the screen game. You have to account for the fly sweep. You have to account for the draw, for the sprint draw, for the toss runs. There's so much you have to account for that they don't let you just pass rush."
"I think it's going to be a great showdown," defensive end Ben Gardner said. "They've done some really impressive things this year, things we haven't seen from Oregon State in the past. Mannion and Cooks have been really the best combination in the country so far. It's funny, it seems like every week in the Pac-12 this year you're playing a new guy or two guys that are in the Heisman conversation. It's our job to make sure they're not on the Heisman conversation the week after we play them."
Sophomore offensive tackle Andrus Peat earned high marks for helping Stanford slow dynamic UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr.
"Andrus probably played his best game as a Stanford Cardinal," Shaw said. "It was impressive, exciting to watch. It was a big challenge and he was up for it."
Added Kodi Whitfield: "Andrus actually played really well," Whitfield said. "I'd like to throw that out there. With a guy as talented as Anthony (Barr), he held his own."
Barry Sanders and Kodi Whitfield will continue to split punt return duties.
"Both have done a good job outside the one that Barry muffed," Shaw said. "Both have done a good job on making decisions on fair catching and not fair catching. You've got the older (and more experienced player), Kodi that you trust and the younger (player), Barry that we mostly trust but has the potential for big plays. We'll do that the rest of the year. We'll go back and forth between the two."
6-foot-4 wide receiver Rollins Stallworth has only played a handful of snaps this year, but when he has received playing time it's been in red zone situations.
"Rollins is our specialist," Shaw said. "Every rep he's got has been a 10-yard-and-in rep. He knows it and he works on his plays - we have a variety of plays for him down there. He'll be ready when his number is called."
A reporter mentioned that Saturday would feature a rare meeting of two teams that actually huddled on offense.
"How about that," Shaw quipped. "The dinosaurs. I'm sure the referees will appreciate it."
Redshirt senior defensive end Ben Gardner has been plagued by a "recurring" arm injury for several weeks.
"It's popped up here in the last three weeks since the Washington game," Gardner said. "It's very painful at times. Most of the time I've been able to deal with it. But at this point in the season everybody has their nicks and bruises and everybody has their issues they're dealing with. It's just something I've had to push through. You can't let it get too distracting and have to keep pressing on."
"Sometimes my arm just kind of shuts down. You have to wait for it to come back. Sometimes it comes back quicker than others. Luckily it's been manageable."
Gardner said that Stanford's two new defensive linemen - tight end convert Luke Kaumatule and former outside linebacker - have provided a needed dose of energy and depth to Stanford's previously thin defensive line.
"It's been awesome," Gardner said. "I'll tell you what, Luke and Blake Lueders have both done a great job really giving us a boost on the defensive line. We were really thin there for a week or two. Josh (Mauro) and I and David (Parry) were kind of hurting having to play 80 snaps a game, 85 snaps. So Luke and Blake have given us a big-time boost, high-effort guys. They're guys who will go in there and fight. That's what we needed. (They are) the kind of guys we are on the defensive line and we look forward to more big things from them."