By Mark Soltau
STANFORD, Calif. - Wide receiver Kodi Whitfield has been pining to contribute to the Stanford offense this season, and Saturday against Washington State, he got his chance.
The 6-foot-2, 188-pound true freshman from Loyola High in Los Angeles, made his first career reception in the first quarter. The play only went for six yards, but it was a start.
Late in the fourth quarter, Whitfield made a key seven-yard catch on third-and-four to extend a drive and keep the clock running, as 19th-ranked Stanford held on to beat the upset-minded Cougars, 24-17.
"It was great finally having the hard work pay off," said Whitfield. "The coaches put a plan in for me and got me an early touch. It just feels good to finally transfer practice into the game."
Earlier in the week, David Shaw, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football, said he has been trying to get the speedy Whitfield more involved, but the ball just hasn't been thrown his way.
"You can't really complain," Whitfield said. "It's just the way things work out. I get equal opportunities and finally got to capitalize today."
Whitfield's father, Bob, was an All-America offensive tackle at Stanford and a Pro Bowl selection in the NFL. He usually attends games, but was not among the announced crowd of 41,496 at Stanford Stadium.
"None of my family was here," smiled Whitfield. "The one game they don't come to, I do well. They might have to stay home for the rest of them."
For much of the game, the Cardinal offense struggled against the Washington State defense. The Cougars outgained Stanford in total yards, 385 to 256, and ran 84 plays compared to 52 by the Cardinal.
"We just weren't executing," Whitfield said. "We weren't doing the things that got us to this point and made us the team that we are. Toward the end, you started to see a little of that as our defense played out of their mind - as usual - and our offense came up with a key first down."
Prior to the season, the coaching staff told Whitfield he would get a chance to contribute right away. He never lost confidence and has kept working hard in practice.
"Yea, definitely," he said. "That's what I worked hard for in the summer, high school and all that stuff, just for the opportunity. For it to happen in a game finally is just great."
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Stanford sacked WSU quarterback Jeff Tuel 10 times for minus-62 yards. Still, he was elusive, prolonged drives by scrambling 17 times, and often gave the Cardinal defense fits.
"He's a very mobile quarterback," said senior nose tackle Terrence Stephens. "He's a senior and knows what he's doing. You've got to contain him and force him to make bad throws."
Tuel completed 43 of 61 passes for 401 yards, and was only intercepted once. But it was a big one, junior free safety Ed Reynolds returning it 25 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Admittedly, the Cardinal front seven was frustrated at times.
"Always," said Stephens. "Trying your hardest and not getting there is frustrating. But you've just got to keep fighting and it worked out in our favor."
Afterward, there was no big celebration by Stanford players. It was more relief, knowing they had avoided a loss without playing their best football.
"At the end of the day, it's not what we wanted," Stephens said. "But we got the win and know we need to try and continue to improve. That's all we can do. Good teams come down on themselves when they don't meet up to their expectations. And that was not our expectation of performance."
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Extra points: Shaw said true freshman offensive left tackle Andrus Peat had his best week of practice and rewarded him with a second-half start that carried throughout the rest of the game ... true freshman Joshua Garnett received his first collegiate start at right guard ... wide receiver Ty Montgomery suited up but did not play for the third consecutive game due to an undisclosed injury ... the 1992 Cardinal football team celebrated its 20th anniversary on Saturday and many former players, including quarterback Steve Stenstrom and running back Glyn Milburn, were recognized at halftime ... Stanford's newest Nobel laureates, Prof. Brian Kobilka and Prof. Alvin Roth, were honored on the field during the break between the first and second quarters ... Stanford supporter Tench Coxe was the game's honorary captain.