Stanford will be without two of its top reserve linebackers when it faces USC in an early-season Pac-12 showdown.
Redshirt freshman Kevin Palma and fifth-year senior Joe Hemschoot suffered undisclosed injuries in the Cardinal's opener against UC Davis, and will be out for several weeks.
"Kevin Palma played really well in the game but he looks like he'll miss this game, as will Joe Hemschoot," Stanford head coach David Shaw said. "Both of those guys will be down."
Stanford hopes that each player will be able to return to action after the Cardinal's bye week later this month.
"They both might be a couple of weeks," Shaw said. "Hopefully we'll have them both back after the bye, which would be great."
On the other side of the injury coin, defensive end Aziz Shittu could be considered probable to make his season debut against the Trojans
"Aziz Shittu looks like he's got a good chance to play," Shaw said. "We're going to reintegrate him into practice a little bit today and hopefully more tomorrow. But he's got a good shot to play."
Shittu did participate in Tuesday's practice, but was limited to individual on-field work. The Cardinal will re-evaluate his status tomorrow morning.
Stanford needs all of the defensive depth it can muster up against an up-tempo offense like the one USC possesses. The Trojans set a Pac-12 record by running 105 plays in their season opener against Fresno State.
"It's going to be a tough game," Cardinal defensive end Henry Anderson said. "Their running back is probably the best running back we'll see all year. They've got weapons at receiver. They have a couple of young guys that can really go. And the quarterback has improved a ton since last season. Defensively, we're going to have our hands full. They've got an explosive offense.
"They're going to be really tough. Their o-line is really big, too. The right side of their line I think is 6-9, 350, and 6-5, 370, or something like that. They're big dudes and we're going to have to keep our pads down up front and fire off the ball and get penetration, get in the backfield and disrupt their offense before it kind of gets going."
USC's ground game is led by running back Javorius 'Buck' Allen.
"He can make guys miss and he can run you over," Anderson said. "He's got great speed; he can do it all. He's got great vision, just watching film on him. I watched a little bit of film on him after our game this past week and then as a team we watched him yesterday. He made some great runs in the bowl game last year and then against Fresno this past week I think he had 140 yards or something like on that on a little over 20 carries. He's an explosive back and he can make you miss but he also has the power to run you over."
Though he has reportedly been dealing with some sort of a toe injury, USC's redshirt junior quarterback Cody Kessler also has Stanford's attention. Kessler was very good in the Trojan's 20-17 win over the Cardinal last year, completing 25-of-37 passes for 288 yards and a touchdown. He was even better in USC's season-opening win over Fresno State, completing 25-of-37 passes for 394 yards and four touchdowns. He did not throw an interception.
"A lot of us, especially on the West Coast, we've known about this kid since he was a junior in high school," Shaw said. "(He's a) good athlete, good quarterback, relatively highly recruited coming out.
"But then you get to last year and he didn't look like the same guy. I think what they were doing on offense, there was a lot of stuff going on and it wasn't efficient. And then once he became the starter you saw him get comfortable and you started to see that kid that everybody recruited coming out of high school. Late in the year last year he was efficient. He has a quick release. He was accurate. He's tough. That's one thing that I think gets understated with him when you watch him. You go back and watch even this past game. There are a couple of throws when he's about to get hit and he stands in there and makes great throws with guys in his face. That's to me how you really judge a quarterback: how does he handle pressure, and he handles it really well. So really, the end of last year he really started to show that and then once again, last week he really did also. For me, he's one of those guys that doesn't get mentioned in this great crop of quarterbacks in our conference, but then again, neither does Kevin Hogan, but when you watch these two guys play, they're really good quarterbacks."
In order to prepare for USC, the Cardinal has viewed multiple sets of game tape - that of USC, to get a gauge on the Trojans' personnel, and Washington, for a refresher on the scheme that Steve Sarkisian and Trojan defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox run.
Though Sarkisian and Wilcox will have new weapons at their disposal now that they are at USC, Shaw doesn't expect any huge surprises.
"The bottom line, though, is we've played this combination of coaches a bunch of times in the last couple of years," Shaw said. "I think they kind of know who we are, we kind of know who they are. Both teams will have some wrinkles, but it's about playing sound football on the defensive side and efficient offense with some explosive capabilities on the offensive side."
Stanford will make a few tweaks to its starting lineup this week. On the heels of a strong training camp and season debut, junior Zach Hoffpauir will get the start at safety opposite Jordan Richards, though Kyle Olugbode, who got the starting nod against Davis, will play a lot.
"(In the) second half of camp he was just so dynamic," Shaw said of Hoffpauir. "He's so explosive. He was great in the nickel. His speed and his physical nature are extremely impressive. Kyle (Olugbode) has been great also and both of those guys are going to play but we'll give Zach the start this week. Like I said, Kyle is going to play, also, but Zach has just been awesome."
At cornerback, junior Alex Carter will start alongside Wayne Lyons; redshirt junior Ronnie Harris will receive plenty of playing time as well.
"Alex Carter is listed as a starter now, but you're going to see Ronnie Harris come in and play a lot at both corners just because of the tempo of the game to make sure that our guys stay as fresh as possible," Shaw said.
On the other side of the ball, Stanford's offense will have to contend with a talent-laden UCS defense led by future NFL first-round pick Leonard Williams and 320-plus-pound nose tackle Antwaun Woods.
"It's a huge challenge," Shaw said. "They're big. The nose is 320 (pounds); he's a big, physical athletic kid. (Leonard Williams) is special. He's a special football player. I think their linebackers are improved from a year ago, the way that they're moving right now. I think the defense has suited them extremely well. They know the responsibilities and they're coming downhill and making big hit and making tackles. I think they have a dynamic group of safeties that are all playmaking type safeties.
"I think it's a really, really good defense with a really, really good scheme and it starts up front for us on the offensive line. We have to make sure that we can at the very least get a stalemate, if not create some holes for our runners and protect the passer against a good front."
Stanford might reach into its bag of tricks to advance its offense come Saturday. Quarterback Kevin Hogan admitted that the Cardinal didn't exactly show their entire playbook in the season opener.
"We wanted to do everything it took to win, absolutely," Hogan said. "But that being said, I think that we have a lot of good wrinkles that the coaches have brought in the offseason that we've been really working on and we're excited to use.
"I know that they wanted to save some stuff for this week."
One area of varying emphasis for Hogan and Stanford's offense has been the Virginia native's running ability. Hogan is correctly regarded as an athletic quarterback, but while his legs have been a factor in a number of the Cardinal's wins, designed quarterback runs have generally not been an integral part in Stanford's game plan.
There's a chance that could change this year, however.
"Obviously they don't want me to try and run over a linebacker or a safety but I don't think they're going to hold me back as far as running the ball," Hogan said. "I think it's something that could be good for us if a play breaks down, to take off and run. But I'm just going to be smart and pick and choose when to slide, when to go for those extra yards. I felt a few of those hits before and I know sometimes it's better just to slide. So I'm not too worried about that and I know the coaches recognize that I'm going to be smart when I take off and run.
"I think that as opposed to early on last year when I might not have run as much, we're going to have all those quarterback read runs up and (they're) going to let me run a little bit."
"It's just that (last year) some of maybe the run game schemes, the quarterback reads, might not have all been there early on. We might have been saving them or later in the season. But it's something that we've been working on all camp so I think that we're going to use them."
Ty Montgomery has been a versatile presence in Stanford's offense for several years, but his role has expanded greatly in 2014. In addition to returning kicks, catching passes, and being a threat on the occasional run play, Montgomery has integrated returning punts and even taking snaps as the Wildcat quarterback into his repertoire.
"The thing with Ty, it's the reason why he's back there returning punts - we've seen it in kickoff returns, we've seen it on screens, we've seen it every time he catches the ball: He's dynamic with the ball in his hands," Shaw said. "Now you give him a punt return with space. He's got great vision, he's got great body control. He's got great pace and tempo, which a lot of people don't understand. It's one thing to be full speed and be fast, but Ty knows when to kick it into fifth gear. A lot of that punt return was in fourth gear. And then once he got the seam that's when it hit fifth gear and he left, just like the receiver screen that he scored on. He caught the ball and was kind of under control up until the end when he kicks it into another great. Punt return, screens, kickoff returns, he's just so dynamic at those and he has to get those opportunities."
If anything, Montgomery is involved in so many different facets of the Cardinal gameplan that Stanford has to be careful not to wear him out.
"I wouldn't say there is a play count," Shaw said. "When his tongue is dragging, that's when he comes out. If his tongue's not dragging, he is in, and he understands that. And if he gets gassed like happened a couple of times - he runs a couple of deep one in a row, we'll take him out. Jordan Pratt will go in there or Francis Owusu will go in there and it will be great. We do need to monitor because he is such a part of what we do. If he gets gassed for a couple of plays we need to take care of him."
There was plenty of drama in the aftermath of Stanford's narrow victory over Washington in 2013. Then-Husky head coach accused several Cardinal defenders of faking injury to slow the Washington offense. Shaw, understandably, took offense.
A year later, however, and no hard feelings remain.
"(There is) no hatchet to bury," Shaw said. "There was no hatchet to bury. That situation was what it was last year. We've both moved on. We sat next to each other at the Pac-12 meetings and talked about a whole bunch of stuff. Talked about football, talked about family. Our wives hung out at the wives get together down in Los Angeles. There's no animosity whatsoever between me and Steve. That situation was what it was and we've moved on."