“Ridiculous,” said David Shaw, Stanford’s Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football. “Absolutely ridiculous. But he lost some cool points when he stood up and dropped the ball.”
The catch was the top college football highlight on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top Plays, though it was eclipsed by Shane Victorino’s grand slam that clinched a World Series berth for the Boston Red Sox. Still, No. 2 wasn’t bad.
“Just a phenomenal catch,” Shaw said. “It’s one of those things where you throw your hand up there and hope to tip it to yourself. But rarely does that thing stick.”
Whitfield said the play didn’t start too well.
“I got pressed at the line," he said. "It was more, ‘How could I recover and get in good position for Hogan to throw me the ball? When I looked for the ball, it was in the air. I had to catch it.”
Whitfield, the son of Stanford Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bob Whitfield, said the first comment from his father was “How did you miss that block on 97 Power?”
“He’s always hard on me about my blocking,” Kodi said.
UCLA reserve quarterback Jerry Neuheisel, a teammate of Whitfield’s at Loyola High in Los Angeles, wondered of his former receiver, “How come you never made a catch like that for me?”
Whitfield, a sophomore, is continually working to get more opportunities in the Cardinal offense, and that mentality was part of making that play.
“Just be ready for whenever that play may come,” Whitfield said. “I know my role in the offense, and I just have to catch everything that comes to me.”
* * *
The knee injury suffered by receiver Devon Cajuste in the third quarter of the 24-10 victory against UCLA last week was not as bad as initially feared. He had caught seven passes for 109 yards.
Shaw said an MRI and X-ray concluded that Cajuste had no ligament damage and “should be ready to go for Oregon,” on Nov. 7.
“He should not miss any significant time,” Shaw said.
Kicker Jordan Williamson seems “close” to returning, and should be back for the Oregon as well.
Defensive end Henry Anderson, out since the Army game Sept. 14, may be able to suit up for Oregon, but his return could come later.
* * *
Holding a 17-10 lead with just over two minutes left against UCLA, Stanford picked up a first down at the Bruins’ 4-yard line and UCLA had no timeouts left.
According to a chart in Shaw’s possession, Stanford had too much time left to kneel three times. He briefly considered three kneel-downs followed by a field goal try, but didn't want to risk a blocked field goal and return.
On the next play, Tyler Gaffney ran in for the score, with 1:43 left.
“The way our defense played all day, I felt good about giving them the ball with under two minutes and a 14-point lead,” Shaw said. “Now, did I halfway hope we’d get tackled on the first down play? Absolutely. But I didn’t want to mess around.
“Be aggressive, be physical, and see if we could run it in. They didn’t let us score by any stretch of the imagination. They put in their goal line defense and they were trying really hard to stop us.”
* * *
Whitfield’s fellow receiver Ty Montgomery made a memorable play as well, by dragging a load of Bruins another five yards after he appeared to be stopped after one catch. Montgomery did so with a defender’s hand inside his mask grabbing his face, which caused the Stanford junior to pause for a few moments afterwards and collect himself.
The play covered 29 yards and was followed two plays later by the touchdown pass to Whitfield.
“He’s like a running back,” Shaw said. “He’s 215 pounds, the same as (running back) Anthony Wilkerson. He’s big, he’s physical, he’s strong, and he doesn’t like to go down. He’s quietly becoming one of the best players in the nation.”
* * *
Stanford travels to Corvallis for a Saturday (7:30 p.m. PT) game against Oregon State and its passing combination of Northern California natives Sean Mannion to Brandin Cooks – a combo that Shaw said is the best he’s ever seen in the Pac-12.
Through seven games, Mannion and Cooks have combined for 12 touchdown passes, and 145 career receptions. Mannion is leading the nation in passing yards, with 2,992 and Cooks leads the nation in receiving touchdowns.
“The way Cooks is playing right now, there’s nobody that he hasn’t gotten behind,” Shaw said. “They try to double cover him and play off him. And even when they play off him, he 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.
“I don’t know if we’ve seen a team more dedicated to the deep pass in the last few years than the way they are right now. You can try it a lot, but they’re so efficient at it. Usually deep passing teams are looking at a 50 percent completion rate. These guys are looking at 65 percent of the deep-ball passes.”
Whose responsibility will it be to guard Cooks?
“Everybody,” Shaw said. “He’s everybody’s responsibility -- safeties, corners, nickels, everybody has to be aware of where he is and keep him in front of us.”
* * *
Stanford defensive tackle Ben Gardner on playing the likes of Mannion and Cooks: “It’s funny,” he said. “It seems like every week in the Pac-12, you’re playing guys that are in the Heisman conversation. It’s our job to make sure they’re not in the Heisman conversation the week after we play them.”
* * *
Another concern for Stanford’s defense is the Oregon State screen pass.
“They make you play honest because coach Mike Riley has every screen known to man, every kind of screen you can possibly imagine," Shaw said. "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 spread draw, for the toss runs. There’s so much you have to account for that they don’t let you just pass rush.”
* * *
Montgomery failed to gather in a deep ball from Hogan on Stanford’s first series against UCLA, as a sure touchdown pass glanced off his fingertips.
Shaw cautioned not to put too much blame on Montgomery for a drop, because the pass was slightly overthrown.
“I always remind the quarterbacks that when you have a receiver that does any kind of a double move, it’s never possible for them to get back to full speed," Shaw said. "It’s not the same as taking off and running. So, you have to try not to overshoot him because he can’t quite get that juice back.
“It wasn’t a foot overthrown, it was about six inches. Did he get his fingers on it? Yeah, but you’d probably have to put it on both of them.”
* * *
Other than 28-year-old Jordan Pratt – “Pratt Daddy” to his fellow receivers -- the receiving corps is fairly young, with juniors Montgomery and Cajuste as the elder statesmen.
“They’re all young and energetic and they all support each other,” Shaw said. “They’re good friends. When they make a play, guys are jumping up and down. It’s a really good group that’s talented and has camaraderie. That doesn’t always go hand in hand.”
* * *
Ronnie Harris was Stanford’s special teams player of the week after making three solo tackles on kick coverage.
“They tried to double team him, they tried to hold him, they tried everything,” Shaw said.
* * *
Shaw no longer votes in the coaches’ poll and was critical of its purpose.
“It’s a farce,” he said. “As a coach, you can’t vote with a clear conscience. You can’t do it.
"We’ve got a 7:30 game this week. There is no chance I’ll sit around and watch all the football games and try to compare. I’m getting ready for a football game.
“We had a 12:30 game last week. Great, the game’s over, there’s all the media stuff I had to do and then I went out to dinner with my family. And then I would have to turn in rankings by the end of the evening. No, I didn’t watch any other games, especially with a careful enough eye to tell who’s better than who.
“Some guys really try to do it with a clear conscience, but I don’t know how you really do it because it should be on who’s better. How do you know who’s better unless you watch them play? You can’t do it off statistics and you can’t do it off point margins.”
* * *
Pratt was 26 when he arrived as a freshman in 2011 and will be 31 by the time he’s done if he has his way. Pratt, who pitched for eight years in the Los Angeles Dodgers farm system out of Central High in Monmouth, Ore., would like to play a fifth year while earning a master’s degree in sustainable design and construction. Pratt, a junior, is in the process of designing his own major, which would give him an engineering degree in atmosphere and energy.
* * *
Pratt was teammates with Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw in fall instructional leagues in Arizona and Vero Beach, Fla., as well as in spring training.
* * *
Gardner feels Stanford’s defense has regained its mojo.
“We feel like we built some momentum last week with our defense,” he said. “We got our attitude and our confidence back, so hopefully, we can keep that rolling.”
* * *
Ron Lynn, Stanford’s assistant head coach and defensive coordinator in 2008-09 and now the program’s director of player development, was saddened by the death of College Football Hall of Fame coach Don James this week.
Lynn and Stanford defensive line coach Randy Hart, who coached under James at Washington from 1988-92, will remain in the Northwest after Saturday’s game and attend James’ memorial service Sunday in Seattle.
James hired Lynn as his secondary coach at Kent State in 1974, joining a staff that included graduate assistants Nick Saban, Dom Capers, and Gary Pinkel. James took over the program in 1971 when the school was still recovering from National Guard shootings of students during a campus protest in 1970.
James coached the Golden Flashes to the Mid-American Conference title in 1972 and a Top 20 ranking in 1973.
James was so revered that he seemed almost like deity.
“One day, there was lightning storm and it was pouring rain,” Lynn said. “The guys were already taped up for practice, and in those days your budget was so tight you couldn’t waste anything. So, Don comes into the locker room and says, ‘Practice is in 20 minutes!’
“At 19 minutes and 30 seconds, it was still pouring, but Don says, “Let’s go!” Within five seconds, the clouds break and the sun comes out.
“The guys couldn’t believe it. ‘My God,’ they said. ‘He controls the weather too.’”
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