From unheralded two-star recruit with only a single BCS scholarship offer (from Stanford) to team captain and All-Pac-12 performer, defensive end Ben Gardner's rise on The Farm mirrored that of the Cardinal program. But on Tuesday, Stanford coach David Shaw disclosed that Gardner, a fifth-year senior, had suffered a season-ending pectoral injury in Stanford's victory over Oregon State.
"Ben Gardner will miss the remainder of the season with a pectoral injury," David Shaw said. "Tough on Ben, as you know he's been playing through pain for about a month. This is an unrelated injury. Just bad body position at the wrong time and forces going opposite ways. It was just a bad thing. Ben was voted a team team captain and has been one of the reasons why we we've been where we are defensively. As a coach you're not supposed to have favorites but I've told Ben and I've told the team, Ben's always been one of my favorites. He's a guy who came in as a two-star guy that has done nothing but work his tail off to get to where is. From two stars to a guy that NFL teams are talking about. He'll have a chance at the next level to get into camp and try to make a team."
I love my teammates, my coaches, my university, and my fans. I'm choked up by all of the support. But we still got a job to do #beattheducks- Ben Gardner (@BennyG49) October 29, 2013
Gardner released an open letter through Stanford's media relations department on Tuesday afternoon expressing his gratitude to the Stanford community for his five seasons on The Farm.
To the Stanford Family:
As my Stanford Football career has come to an abrupt and unexpected close, millions of thoughts are flying through my head. While this is not the way I had imagined my college playing days ending, all I can do is look up and thank God for one heck of a ride. During my five years at Stanford, I was fortunate enough to start 34 games, compete in three BCS Bowl Games, and win a Pac-12 Championship. Along the way, I was able to play with countless NFL stars, learn from dozens of great coaches, and work with a group of men who I consider to be my family on a daily basis. For these reasons, I consider myself one of the luckiest 22-year-old men on the planet. Although this injury will undoubtedly make my transition to professional football more challenging, I have never been one to back down from a challenge, and I like my chances. People have doubted me for my entire career and they will continue to do so, but I trust that my experiences at Stanford have put me in a position where I cannot fail. In the meantime, I will fulfill my duties as a team captain, and I'll be right there alongside my boys when we finish our journey towards the Pac-12 Championship. What we do here at Stanford is special, and I can't wait to soak it all in over the next two months with my brothers. The #partyinthebackfield never stops, so let's beat Oregon and keep this thing rolling. Thank you all for five amazing years.
#49 Ben Gardner
Though Gardner won't be wearing pads on game day, he'll still be involved in the program. Gardner is expected to be a constant presence at practices and games, helping the Cardinal for the remainder of the season.
"It's going to be a tough loss but as I reminded the team, he's not going anywhere," Shaw said. "He'll be here. And the people that take his place on the field need to feel his presence that they're going to take Ben's spot. They need to play the game with the same intensity and desire that he played with."
Linebacker A.J. Tarpley said that the team found out from Gardner over the weekend that his Stanford career would be over.
"He told us that he wasn't going to be with us the rest of the year," Tarpley said. "It took a while to hit some of us but it hurt. We're still going to play for him."
"He's a coach for us. He knows so much about the game and he can teach the younger guys and not even them, but also he can help the older guys as well if he sees something during the game or on film. He can rah-rah you, he can do what he needs to do. He'll do what he needs to do to get done."
Three questionable: Kicker Jordan Williamson, receiver Devon Cajuste and defensive end Henry Anderson remain questionable for the Oregon game.
"All three have a chance to play," Shaw said. "All three still need to be evaluated."
Both Anderson and Williamson participated in Tuesday's practice in limited capacities. Anderson donned full pads during Tuesday's practice and partook in positional drills.
"He put the full pads on, didn't go through all of practice," Shaw said. "(He) did some drills and did great, did really well. We'll do the exact same thing tomorrow and then he'll get some training room stuff on Thursday and Friday, light practice on Saturday, and then we'll see if he can go most of the practice if not all of the practice on Monday."
Williamson, meanwhile, got some light kicking work in.
"He kicked a little bit," Shaw said. "Felt good. He'll kick a little bit tomorrow. We'll take some more days off. But we're on still on pace to give it a good shot for this week. He's in a good mindset this week to try to get that done."
Stanford will hold Devon Cajuste out of practice until the weekend. They'll reevaluate his status then.
"We'll continue to rest Devon Cajuse this week and start getting him ready maybe on the weekend to see where he is… He feels good about where he is, the trainers feel good about where he is, I think just a couple of more days of rest we'll see if he's where we hope he is."
Though indications are that Anderson will be play against the Ducks, Stanford's depth will be seriously tested if he cannot. In addition to Blake Lueders, who has already assumed a significant role within the defensive line, the Cardinal might be forced to call on one or more of its less experienced players.
"It would have to be a combination of guys with Luke Kaumatule, Aziz Shittu, there's a group of guys that would have to (fill in)," Shaw said. "Anthony Hayes is in that group. There's a group of guys that are on the verge of being ready to play that would have to be thrust into action."
Fortunately for the Cardinal, outside linebacker Trent Murphy, who missed a play late in the Oregon State game, suffered only a stinger and will play against Oregon.
"He was fine," Shaw said. "He needed to come off and let it cool down."
The status of the Cardinal's injured players could go a long way towards determining Stanford's chances at upsetting Oregon on Nov. 7th.
"If we're not fully manned it's ridiculously difficult," Shaw said. "If we can get Henry back, if we can get our guys some rest, guys that have been fighting through stuff, we'll give ourselves a chance the way we've been playing defense the last couple of weeks. But you have to be healthy and you have to be in position or these guys make you look bad."
Dissecting the offensive lull: After topping the 30-point mark in each of its first five games, Stanford has averaged under 22 points per game in its last three.
"It's a function of execution," Shaw said. "Thankfully our defense has played great in the last couple of weeks. We've missed some opportunities, bottom line. (We had) an incomplete ball go for an interception two weeks ago in scoring position. Last week to drive down the length of the field and fumble a ball, with two guys that all they've done is work together on that for months, hurt. And then miss a field goal here, miss a point after there and miss a couple opportunities. We missed Ty on a touchdown pass on a post route in the second half. He was gone. He was behind everybody. So it's taking advantage of those situations. We have to. We can't miss those opportunities against a team like Oregon."
Shaw pointed to three factors that slowed the Cardinal's offense against Oregon State: missed throws, play calling, and heavy pressure on Kevin Hogan.
"We have to do a better job play calling, Kevin missed some throws, but also this was the most pressure our quarterback has been under in a long time," Shaw said. "I'm talking about a couple of years. Those kids at Oregon State played their tails off up front. Pass protection has been one of the best things that we've done all year. We've had all day back there some games, great pass pro. And (Beaver defensive lineman Scott) Crichton and his boys got after us. And it wasn't blitzes and stunts. Their guys beat our guys one-on-one.
"There were times when guys were open. There were two times during the game when Kevin was in his throwing motion and here comes a guy in his face and he has to pull it down and duck down and spin out and he gets hit by another guy. There's another time when we have everybody properly assigned but Gaffney has to help, an offensive lineman gets beat, and the guy that Gaffney is supposed to block comes and hits the quarterback. If he doesn't help then the other guy hits the quarterback. It wasn't schematic; their guys beat our guys. So Kevin missed a couple throws, I called a couple bad plays, and we had a couple guys open and we didn't have time to throw it. So that will kill you, absolutely kill you. No disrespect to Oregon State at all because they played really well against us. These guys are better. So we've got to make sure that none of those three things happen again."
When asked for his opinion about remedying the team's offensive issues, Stanford fullback Ryan Hewitt suggested the Cardinal look to their smashmouth identity.
"Personally, I think we should just line up and do what we do, do what we excel at, and not try to out-fancy teams or confuse them," Hewitt said. "We should just line up and hit them in the mouth and do what we hang our hat on. In my opinion, obviously I'm biased because I like it when I'm on the field most, I feel like we have good success doing that. So I hope we do that and I think Coach Shaw agrees and I think that's kind of the direction we will go."
Halftime ceremony planned for Elway: Stanford will retire the No. 7 of former Cardinal quarterback and current NFL Hall of Famer John Elway at halftime of the Oregon game. The number will be put out of commission after Stanford's current No. 7's - Ty Montgomery and Aziz Shittu - conclude their careers.
"I think it's a great opportunity to recognize John Elway on this stage, a stage that he's definitely worth of us as well," Shaw said. "I can't wait for him to get the ovation that he so well deserves."
Will another famous No. 7, former Cardinal running back Toby Gerhart, ever join Elway in having his No. 7 retired?
"That's a good question," Shaw said. "I've talked to Toby about this and at some point Toby will go into the Stanford football Hall of Fame and he'll have his time, but for right now, this is John's moment. It's unbelievably long overdue."
In addition to Gerhart, quarterback Andrew Luck is on the short list of Stanford players whose jerseys could one day be retired. Don't expect his number to be worn anytime soon.
"As I told some of the players, the jersey is still warm," Shaw said. "It was on fire for about three years and it's still warm. I think it would burn somebody's skin if they put it on."
Murphy snubbed: A day before being named one of 16 semifinalists for the Bednarik Award, the honor given to the best defensive player in college, outside linebacker Trent Murphy was curiously excluded from the list of semifinalists for the Butkus Award, which is given to the nation's top linebacker.
"I would hope that it's temporary and an oversight," Shaw said. "Most of those things are done off statistics, which once again, don't get me started. But even statistically he should be on there. So hopefully there will be some communication between us and them because that doesn't make any sense. (He's the) best outside linebacker in our conference and one of the best in the country and the production says that, not just his coach saying that. Hopefully that's a rectifiable situation."
David Shaw said that he would give Kevin Hogan a B- grade for his play so far this season.
"All things considered I'd say B-," Shaw said. "All things considered. Because I thought he played great early in the year. Once again, forget about the statistics, but for what we ask him to do and what he's read and making big plays. I thought he was phenomenal against Washington State. I thought he was really, really good I would say three out of the first four games of the year. Really, really good. The last couple of weeks, he's not played as well. But still, the scramble in the two-minute drill (against Oregon State) leads to a touchdown. The go-route to Ty gets the two-minute drill started. The third down conversation to Kodi when nobody's open and he's got to move back around and then find Kodi between two guys, still not a lot of guys in college football make that play. So he's making plays, we just have to make sure that we're making as many plays as possible. He's missed some throws, he's missed some things. But he's still playing well. I wouldn't say he's playing terribly."
Shaw will fly to Washington D.C. on Thursday to watch as former Stanford football player Cory Booker is sworn in to the U.S. Senate. After returning home to be with his family on Halloween, Shaw will be back on the road Friday to recruit.
Shaw thinks Oregon's Marcus Mariota is the top quarterback in the country - for the second straight season.
"I thought last year he was the best quarterback in the nation and I feel the same way this year," Shaw said. "You watch the film and you see a kid that makes every throw. Every throw is accurate. He has 20 touchdowns and no interceptions. Every ball is perfect, every ball is in stride. Every ball, there's no wobble on it. Everything is pretty. As a former receiver you always appreciate that, a guy that just throws a pretty ball. And then when nobody is open he just takes off and out-runs everybody. If you were designing a quarterback, that's what you want. 6-foot-4, runs a 4.4. Smart. Good kid. Just ridiculous."