Stanford Football: Devon Cajuste

Will Devon Cajuste's return help Stanford move to the perimeter?

For many Stanford fans, this week was noteworthy because David Shaw took full blame for the offensive ineptitude that strangled the Cardinal in last Saturday's 26-10 loss at Arizona State. Shaw repeatedly said he hadn't been appropriately utilizing Stanford's talent on offense, a unit that's stocked with highly rated recruits. Naturally, then, the question shifts: What will Shaw and his offensive coordinator Mike Bloomgren change to fix their offense? Oregon State's defense has actually been statistically better than the Arizona State unit that smothered Stanford last week. The Beavers -- notably quick up front -- are allowing only 4.9 yards per play, and they're second behind only the Cardinal in Pac-12 total defense.

[+] EnlargeDevon Cajuste
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezStanford certainly missed big target Devon Cajuste last week.
Two weeks ago against Washington State, it became apparent that Stanford was trying to move to a more perimeter-oriented offensive attack, and it worked against the Cougars. Instead of only operating in the middle scrum, the Cardinal's smaller running backs succeeded with a heavy dose of off-tackle runs, and Shaw also utilized a size advantage at wide receiver to put the offense in position to block and break tackles on screens to the outside. But when an injury forced the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Cajuste to miss the Arizona State game, Stanford seemed to lose the will to effectively attack the perimeter. Cajuste is back this week, and that's critical. Because he has a 40-pound mismatch over almost any cornerback in the conference (a huge boon for perimeter blocking), he's a major puzzle piece for Stanford's offensive transition.

In the end, Stanford's scheme must help Kevin Hogan enter his comfort zone. The failure to draw up a designed run for Hogan until the second half last week was a mistake. If the Cardinal can buy enough space with perimeter runs and wide receiver screens to allow Hogan to play his game, this offense should start clicking. Otherwise, there will again be a whole lot of wasted talent on the field.

How will the defensive line hold up without both David Parry and Aziz Shittu?

Stanford's defense has posted prolific numbers throughout the first half of the season. They're leading the nation in several telling categories. In fact, they've been performing better than the 2013 Stanford defense despite losing a laundry list of star power to graduation (Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy and several others). The reason behind this is simple: Unlike last season, the Stanford defensive line had been fully healthy.

Until now.

Versatile end/tackle Aziz Shittu might miss the remainder of the season after a practice injury, and David Parry -- the fire hydrant in the middle who might be the defense's most important player -- is out against Oregon State with a leg injury. So Stanford is left without an experienced defensive tackle. Last week, Stanford burned true freshman Harrison Phillips' redshirt. The team expects the high-motor Phillips to be an excellent player, but he's only listed at 255 pounds right now.

"It's been baptism by fire for him," Shaw said.

Stanford is also playing Nate Lohn on the defensive line, while Jordan Watkins and Alex Yazdi (nicknamed "the Iranian Meatball") are options. Oregon State's rushing offense is not good (3.8 yards per rush, third-worst in the Pac-12), so the Cardinal might get a break in that regard this Saturday, but this is a huge area of concern -- especially with the Oregon Ducks looming on Nov. 1. Parry, by the way, is questionable for that Oregon game.

More pressure on the secondary: Can they handle it?

Stanford's health issues along the defensive line puts more pressure on the secondary. The team's offensive struggles have also increased the stakes there, and cornerback Alex Carter admitted that his unit has been forced to play more aggressively -- creating risky tendencies -- to make up for the Cardinal's deficiencies elsewhere.

Though the secondary has been very good (second-best nationally, having given up only 4.8 yards per pass attempt), it has cracked a couple times this year under intense pressure. Fans won't soon forget Notre Dame's game-winning touchdown on fourth-and-10, and struggles against Jaelen Strong & Co. last week are still fresh in the memory, too.

Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion is only 316 yards from breaking Matt Barkley's Pac-12 passing record, so the Bay Area native has a chance to set the record in front of family and friends. The Stanford secondary hasn't allowed 300 passing yards in a game yet this season, but Mannion will certainly put it to the test -- especially if Stanford's depleted defensive line struggles to generate a pass rush.
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Behind three touchdowns from Devon Cajuste and two Ty Montgomery scores, Stanford pasted Army 35-0. Here's what we learned from the Cardinal in Week 3.

Still no sign of a defensive drop-off

Through three games, Stanford's defense is surrendering just 4.3 points per game. The second unit preserved the Cardinal's second shutout of the season with a fourth-down stop late in the game, and that put an exclamation point on the group's third straight rock-solid performance.

Remember that Army's triple-option attack gave Stanford fits last year, racking up 284 rushing yards. On Saturday, the Black Knights couldn't even scrape out three yards per play until garbage time. The Cardinal secondary held Army to nine passing yards.

After the game, Stanford coach David Shaw expressed great satisfaction with the cohesion defensive coordinator Lance Anderson has fostered following former defensive coordinator Derek Mason's departure to Vanderbilt.

"We're only three games in," Shaw said. "We're where we are on defense because we're playing together."

So far, there's no evidence that Stanford's defense has skipped a beat following the losses of Shayne Skov, Trent Murphy, Ed Reynolds, Ben Gardner and Josh Mauro. Against Army, Blake Martinez -- Skov's replacement -- paved the way with 11 stops. Outside linebacker James Vaughters (two tackles for loss) was also excellent, and Aziz Shittu continued his successful emergence -- a development that's critical to the depth of Stanford's defensive line.

Red-zone improvement?

The Cardinal's performance against USC last Saturday was bizarre: They were extraordinarily good in the middle of the field and epically bad when they approached scoring range. Stanford scored only 10 points despite reaching the Trojans' 35-yard line on every one of their nine drives.

As a result, the Cardinal's red-zone scoring efficiency (ranked No. 125 of 127 teams nationally) came under intense scrutiny this past week. On paper, the team delivered Saturday, scoring touchdowns on all three of its opportunities inside the 20-yard line against Army. Two of those scores, though, came on jump-ball throws from Kevin Hogan to 6-foot-4, 228-pound receiver Cajuste, who's more than 25 pounds heavier than Army's cornerbacks. It remains to be seen if the Cardinal can translate this success in the red zone to games against more talented Pac-12 competition.

video Intermediate passing game still succeeding

Hogan maintained success in the intermediate passing game, a critical component of a Stanford offense that doesn't feature the same power-rushing threat as in recent seasons. The quarterback spread out his 20 completions to seven receivers. Cajuste provided the fireworks with three touchdowns, but Hogan's strongest moments came when he effectively checked down to tight end Austin Hooper in the face of Army blitzes to fuel a healthy 60 percent third-down conversion rate.

Hooper, by the way, has already racked up 12 catches for 174 yards this season. That's more than Stanford's entire tight end position group hauled in all of last season: 10 catches, 69 yards.

Some sloppiness still present

Granted, this was a low-energy game. Stanford was playing a physically overmatched opponent in front of thousands of empty seats just a week after a gut-wrenching loss. Still, Shaw must be concerned with some continued Cardinal sloppiness. Montgomery lost the ball on a first-half punt return, and that marked Stanford's ninth fumble in three games this season. The Cardinal only coughed the ball up 20 times all of last season. Meanwhile, David Bright's holding penalty nullified a Kelsey Young touchdown. Stanford's offensive linemen have been flagged for holding five times, up from three holding calls throughout all of 2013.

Stanford will enter this bye week looking to patch up these recurring errors. A Sept. 27 game at Washington will mark this team's first foray on the road. That should serve as an important benchmark for the Cardinal. Six of Stanford's final nine games are on the road, so the true litmus test awaits.
With UC Davis in the rearview mirror, USC now has Stanford’s complete attention. But before we turn the page to one of college football’s best early season matchups, here are some lingering notes from the Cardinal’s 45-0 win in Week 1.

Game notes
  • The win was the 700th in the program's 120-year history (700-460-52).
  • Stanford has now won 17 consecutive home games -- the longest active home winning streak in the county.
  • Stanford has not lost consecutive games under Shaw (7-0 after losses).
  • The Cardinal have not allowed 29 points or more in 24 consecutive games -- the second-longest streak in the country behind Rose Bowl opponent Michigan State (28 games).
  • It was the first shutout for the Cardinal at home under Shaw. The most recent one came against Oregon State in 2010.
  • Shaw became the first coach to win four consecutive season openers since Pop Warner
Players of the Week

The coaching staff awarded its players of the game to WR Ty Montgomery (offense/special teams), CB Wayne Lyons (defense) and RB Christian McCaffrey (special teams).
  • Montgomery did all his work in the first half, catching five passes for 77 yards and a 44-yard touchdown to go along with a 60-yard punt return for a score on the first punt return of his career.


  • Said Shaw on Montgomery: "This year, we know people are going to key on him. We want to have the versatility to put him anywhere and everywhere. Saw him line up in the wildcat, punt return, kickoff return, receiver. We can put him anywhere and everywhere in the slot to the field, outside into the boundary, outside."
  • Lyons had a hand in two turnovers on a defense that allowed no points, just six first downs and 144 yards of total offense.
  • McCaffrey looks like he'll be an important member of the team's coverage units -- he made three tackles in that phase -- and returned three punts for 60 yards, including a long of 41.


  • Shaw on McCaffrey: "When we came back from the summer, coaches came back into town, getting ready for training camp. The players, the old guys, fourth- and fifth-year guys, which you never hear, they came out and say I can't wait to watch Christian McCaffrey play."

    The coaching staff also honored four members of the team for their roles on the scout team during the week: Sam Yules (special teams), McCaffrey (offense) and SS Denzel Franklin and DE Harrison Phillips (defense).
Player notes
  • De La Salle High product Austin Hooper has a strong debut, catching four passes for 63 yards and touchdown. Shaw likened him to a former Stanford tight end currently in the NFL.

    "I've set the bar really, really high for him. I don't mind telling you guys," Shaw said. "The bar for him is Jimmy Dray, what Jimmy Dray did for us here when we first started, setting the physical tone at the line of scrimmage, tight end, and being a receiving threat. And Austin's taken that to heart ... hard worker, physical guy. But you can see what kind of pass receiver he can be."
  • WR Devon Cajuste was suspended for the game for what Shaw termed a "violation of team rules." He will return to the starting lineup against USC.
  • Kicker Jordan Williamson is the program's new all-time leading scorer (294 points). The previous record (289) was held by Eric Abrams (1992-95)."There are a lot of people that had thrown Jordan on the scrap heap. 'He's done. Why don't we have somebody else?'" Shaw said. "And you look up a couple years later, after a couple of gamewinning kicks, a couple of crunchtime field goals as well as crunchtime kickoffs, where he put the ball at the back of the end zone in big games, big moments. Now he's the alltime leading scorer in the history of Stanford football."
  • LB James Vaughters has taken the role previously owned by Shayne Skov in leading Stanford's postgame ritual:
We finish our list of five predictions for the second half of Stanford's spring practice.

No. 1: Staying the course/depth chart

Much of the commentary that has followed Stanford football over the past four years involves the program's incredible resurgence.

Before Jim Harbaugh and his staff arrived, there was a faction -- a small minority, but it was there -- that believed the school should drop down a level in football. It was a concept that angered David Shaw, and several other fans and alumni of the program, and is now less plausible than a Stanford national title.

Expectations are obviously very different now. With the second session of spring practice set to begin next week, Stanford is set to continue preparations for a run at a third-straight Pac-12 title.

Like any program replacing hoards of talent, there are questions that need to be answered, but nothing about the current state of the program indicates the Cardinal shouldn't be among the best in the conference. They have recruited well, they have a lot of good players returning and the coaching staff has proved its mettle.

If there's anything left to predict, it's that the status quo will remain just that.

And, of course, a potential post-spring depth chart:

Offense

QB: Kevin Hogan
RB: Remound Wright
FB: Lee Ward
WR: Ty Montgomery
WR: Devon Cajuste
TE: Eric Cotton
LT: Andrus Peat
LG: Joshua Garnett
C: Graham Shuler
RG: Johnny Caspers
RT: Kyle Murphy

Defense

DE: Henry Anderson
DT: David Parry
DE: Blake Lueders
OLB: James Vaughters
ILB: A.J. Tarpley
ILB: Blake Martinez
OLB: Kevin Anderson
CB: Alex Carter
CB: Wayne Lyons
S: Jordan Richards
S: Kodi Whitfield

Countdown

No. 2: Running back competition will gain clarity
No. 3:
Hogan takes the next step
No. 4: Backup quarterback competition begins
No. 5: Whitfield will emerge at safety
Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.
Today the countdown of Stanford's Top 5 position groups with room to improve begins.

One position group will be highlighted each day this week.

[+] EnlargeTy Montgomery
AP Photo/Tony AvelarTy Montgomery was an explosive player for Stanford, but the Cardinal need more production from other wide receivers and tight ends.
No. 5: Wide receiver

Must replace: None.

Returning starters: Ty Montgomery, Devon Cajuste

Players to watch: Michael Rector, Kodi Whitfield, Jordan Pratt, Francis Owusu, TE Dalton Schultz

Outlook: If Stanford is going to remain atop the Pac-12, its group of receivers will likely need to play a bigger role next season. Outside of Montgomery (61 catches), only Cajuste (28) had more than 16 catches for the Cardinal a year ago. That number figures to rise as the group of pass catchers becomes the most experienced position group on the team. Montgomery has a chance to become of the nation's best receivers and Cajuste, when healthy, proved to be a reliable option in the intermediate passing game. Aside from those two, the Cardinal have several intriguing prospects. Rector proved to be the team's most dangerous deep threat as a redshirt freshman in 2013, catching 14 passes for 431 yards -- an average of 30.8 yards per reception. The offseason will be important for his development as the staff tries to mold him into a more balanced player -- when he was on the field last year, it was pretty much just to run deep routes. Whitfield was used more on underneath routes, but this touchdown catch was easily Stanford's play of the year. Freshman Schultz has a chance to fill the void left by the departure of tight ends Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo following the 2012 season. He was the No. 1-ranked tight end in the country this year.
Stanford coach David Shaw's fourth recruiting class will become official on Wednesday, which means … well, no one is really sure.

Currently, Stanford's class ranks 19th nationally and No. 2 in the Pac-12 behind only Arizona State. If it keeps that spot, it would be the third-best class Stanford has pulled in since ESPN began ranking classes in 2006.

The highest-ranked class in that span came in 2012, when Stanford was No. 12. That ranking also happens to be one spot lower than Stanford's worst finish in the AP Poll in the last four years (No. 11 in 2013).

The 2013 team was made up of players from the 2009-13 recruiting classes. Here is look back at the starters and how they were graded on their respective signing days:

Offense

  • QB Kevin Hogan, Washington (D.C.) Gonzaga College High: Three stars, No. 51 QB, Class of 2011. Scouts grade: 77.
    Notable
    : Of Stanford's top four quarterbacks on the depth chart in 2012, Hogan received the lowest grade. Of course, that didn't stop him from unseating four-star starter Josh Nunes (Class of 2009), passing four-star Brett Nottingham (Class of 2010) and beating out Evan Crower, who was also from the Class of 2011, but ranked just ahead of Hogan.
  • [+] EnlargeTyler Gaffney
    Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesLike many other players who signed with Stanford, RB Tyler Gaffner has far exceeded all expectations.
    RB Tyler Gaffney, San Diego Cathedral Catholic High: No. 76 RB, Class of 2009. Scouts grade: 77.
    Notable
    : Looking back at Gaffney's recruitment profiles is laughable at this point. Some recruiting services pegged him as a fullback coming out of Cathedral Catholic, where he ran for 2,857 yards as a senior and led the school to a state bowl championship. Good luck finding seven running backs better than Gaffney in college football last year, let alone 75 from the Class of 2009.
  • FB Ryan Hewitt, Denver J.K. Mullen High: No. 21 TE, Class of 2009. Scouts grade: 78.
    Notable: Switched to fullback early in his career. Was one of two fullbacks at the Senior Bowl.
  • WR Ty Montgomery, Dallas Saint Mark's School: Four stars, No. 35 WR, Class of 2011. Scouts grade: 79.
    Notable: One of the few Stanford skill players in recent years to make an impact as a freshman and has developed into one of the conference's top receivers.
  • WR Devon Cajuste, Flushing (N.Y.) Holy Cross High: Three stars, No. 71 TE, Class of 2011. Scouts grade: 75.
    Notable: Stanford did not recruit Cajuste to play tight end, which was a main factor in his decision to play for the Cardinal.
  • LT Andrus Peat, Tempe (Ariz.) Corona Del Sol High: Five stars, No. 2 OT, Class of 2012. Scouts grade: 85.
    Notable: Peat is the only Stanford player who has a received a five-star grade from ESPN since the star system was implemented in 2010. He is tied with QB Ryan Burns (Class of 2013) with the highest number grade.
  • LG David Yankey, Roswell (Ga.) Centennial High: Three stars, No. 45 OT, Class of 2010. Scouts grade: 77.
    Notable: Earned All-American honors at both left tackle and left guard. Projects as a guard in the NFL.
  • C Khalil Wilkes, Jersey City (N.J.) St. Peter's Prep: No. 18 OG, Class of 2009. Scouts grade: 78.
    Notable: Didn't see significant playing time until his fourth year and was named second-team All-Pac-12 after switching to center as a fifth-year senior.
  • RG Kevin Danser, San Jose (Calif.) Bellarmine Prep: No. 33 OG, Class of 2009. Scouts grade: 77.
    Notable: Started for two years at right guard.
  • RT Cameron Fleming, Houston Cypress Creek High: Three stars, No. 56 OT, Class of 2010. Scouts grade: 77.
    Notable: Three-year starter opted to head to the NFL with a year of eligibility remaining.
  • TE Charlie Hopkins, Spokane (Wash.) Gonzaga Prep School: Three stars, No. 47 DE, Class of 2011. Scouts grade: 78.
    Notable: Transitioned to tight end before the 2013 season.
Defense

  • [+] EnlargeBen Gardner
    Russ Isabella/USA TODAY SportsBen Gardner wasn't highly recruited -- Stanford was his only FBS offer -- but he became one of the Pac-12's best defensive ends.
    DE Ben Gardner, Mequon (Wis.) Homestead High: Not ranked, Class of 2009. Scouts grade: none.
    Notable: Stanford was Gardner's only FBS offer, but in three years as a starter he was named first-team All-Pac-12 once and second-team All-Pac-12 twice.
  • DE Henry Anderson, College Park (Ga.) Woodward Academy: Three stars, No. 120 DE, Class of 2010. Scouts grade: 75.
    Notable: Anderson has developed into one of the conference's best defensive ends and has an NFL future.
  • DT David Parry, Marion (Iowa) Linn-Mar High: Not ranked, walked on in 2010. Scouts grade: not ranked.
    Notable: Parry was the lone walk-on starter for Stanford.
  • OLB Trent Murphy, Phoenix Brophy Prep School: No. 163 DE, Class of 2009. Scouts grade: 72.
    Notable: Other than Gardner, who wasn't graded, Murphy received the lowest grade of any Stanford scholarship player on the roster in 2013 -- not just among starters. Considering a strong case can be made that Murphy was the best defensive player in college football in 2013, Murphy is the example of why signing day hype shouldn't be taken as gospel.
  • ILB Shayne Skov, Trinity Pawling (N.Y.) School: No. 16 OLB, Class of 2009. Scouts grade: 80.
    Notable: Skov lived up to lofty expectations, which were even higher from other recruiting services.
  • ILB A.J. Tarpley, Plymouth (Minn) Wayzata High: Three stars, No. 48 ILB, Class of 2010. Scouts grade: 75.
    Notable: Tarpley's profile doesn't read like that of a player who will become a four-year starter on one of the nation's elite defenses, but that's how his career finished.

  • OLB James Vaughters, Tucker (Ga.) High: Four stars, No. 2 ILB, Class of 2011. Scouts grade: 81.
    Notable: Considered one of the highest-profile recruits Stanford has ever signed. Has played DE, ILB and OLB.
  • CB Alex Carter, Ashburn (Va.) Briar Woods High: Four stars, No. 11 ATH, Class of 2012: Scouts grade: 80.
    Notable: Initial analysis of Carter pegged him to play safety.

  • CB Wayne Lyons, Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Dillard High: Four stars, No. 7 S, Class of 2011. Scouts grade: 81.
    Notable: Along with Vaughters, was one of two Stanford players in the ESPN 150 in his class.
  • S Jordan Richards, Folsom (Calif.) High: Four stars, No. 26 ATH, Class of 2011: Scouts grade: 80.
    Notable: Analysis of Richards predicted he'd be a wide receiver or cornerback.
  • S Ed Reynolds, Woodberry Forest (Va.) School: Three stars, No. 38 S, Class of 2010. Scouts grade: 78.
    Notable: Was ranked behind teammate Devon Carrington (Four stars, No. 11 S) in the same class. Carrington never became a starter.

Video: Stanford WR Devon Cajuste

December, 31, 2013
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Stanford WR Devon Cajuste talks about the Michigan State defense and keys to the Rose Bowl Game Presented by VIZIO.

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 15

December, 8, 2013
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Five things we learned in the Pac-12 this week:

When Stanford is on, it’s on: Home or away, when the Cardinal are at their best, they are tough to stop. And while Tyler Gaffney’s 22 carries for 133 yards and three touchdowns were huge, obviously, it was the fact that the Cardinal could effectively set up play-action off of those runs that was a key to the game. Kevin Hogan was a very efficient 12-of-18 for 277 yards and a touchdown, including an average of 15.4 yards per completion. He was able to find Jordan Pratt, Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste (two catches, 120 yards) on some big plays. That more than anything kept the Sun Devils defense guessing all night.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsDavid Shaw and Stanford celebrated another Pac-12 championship after running over Arizona State.
Line play was key: You need only see the final stat sheet of rushing yards to know which team won the battle at the line of scrimmage. The Cardinal pounded out 240 yards on 33 carries (5.5 yards per) with four touchdowns on the ground. Arizona State had just 138 yards on 43 carries with one touchdown for an average of 3.2 yards per carry. Part of that was Marion Grice not being available and D.J. Foster getting hurt. Part of it is Stanford’s run defense is really good. See the goal-line stand in the third quarter.

Not so special: It was a rough night for Arizona State from a special teams perspective. Punter Alex Garoutte averaged just 33 yards per punt, Zane Gonzalez missed his only field goal attempt (31 yards) and Stanford’s Ty Montgomery enjoyed an average of nearly 30 yards per kick return. Said Arizona State coach Todd Graham of his special teams: “It’s absolutely sad.”

Fun facts (via ESPN Stats & Information): With the loss, ASU falls to 7-1 at home this season and end an eight-game home winning streak. … Stanford is going to the Rose Bowl in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1970-1971. … The Cardinal outscored ASU 80-42 in two games this season. … In its past 10 meetings with teams ranked in the AP Top 25, Stanford is 10-0, including 6-0 this season.

Oregon to the BCS? Probably not. But it doesn’t hurt to hope. With NIU losing Friday night, it opened up the possibility of a second Pac-12 team, namely Oregon, going to a BCS bowl game since there are no non-AQ teams going to BCS bowl games this year. Michigan State’s win over Ohio State throws an additional wrench. Various projections are floating for Oregon. But the most likely scenario is still the non-BCS Alamo Bowl. Orange is all but a lock to be Ohio State-Clemson. Best bet for a BCS bowl is probably the Sugar against Alabama -- and of course the BCS ranking will play a role whether Oklahoma (currently No. 17) gets into the top 14. Texas beating Baylor and Oklahoma State taking care of business certainly would have helped. Neither happened.

What we learned: Week 14

December, 1, 2013
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What we learned from Stanford's 27-20 win over Notre Dame:

The desert awaits: Shortly after Stanford's victory went final, Arizona State put a bow on its regular season with a 58-21 win against Arizona in the Territorial Cup. The Sun Devils' win secured home-field advantage for the Pac-12 Championship game on Saturday. It'll be a rematch from a Sept. 21 game at Stanford Stadium which the Cardinal won 42-28.

Fan support unrivaled: Stanford Stadium sold out for the seventh time this year, which marked the first time in history that the Cardinal played before sold-out crowds in every home contest. It didn't happen with Jim Harbaugh, it didn't happen with Andrew Luck, but Stanford has turned a corner in terms of the support it is being given by the community.

Cajuste getting heathy: Stanford lost an important facet of its offense when Devon Cajuste went down with a knee injury against UCLA on Oct. 19. He caught seven passes for 109 yards in that game and had just one catch for 19 yards over the next four. Against Notre Dame, Cajuste showed he is rounding back into form with three catches for 75 yards and a touchdown. If the 6-foot-4, 232-pound receiver can remain on the field, it'll be a big boost for the Cardinal.

Calm before Oregon-Stanford hype

October, 31, 2013
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Apologies to the eight Pac-12 teams playing this trick-or-treat week, but this slate of games really is a light murmur before the hype volume is turned up to 11 next week.

The conference's two highest-ranked teams -- No. 2 Oregon and No. 5 Stanford -- are not only off this week, they square off next Thursday in what should be the Pac-12 game of the year.

That doesn't mean there aren't games worth watching over the next three days. Arizona State will try to prove it can beat a solid team on the road Thursday night at Washington State. USC's visit to Oregon State is intriguing on Friday night. And there are always upset possibilities as Arizona and UCLA are heavy favorites at California and Colorado, respectively.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
Scott Olmos/USA TODAY SportsMarcus Mariota will have the opportunity to make a Heisman Trophy statement as well as put the Ducks in the top position in the Pac-12 race next Thursday at Stanford.
But those games won't attract eyeballs from all areas of the country the way the Ducks-Cardinal showdown will. Oregon will be trying to polish its national championship contender bona fides with its toughest test yet -- Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota also could make a Heisman Trophy statement, and Stanford will be trying to take control of the Pac-12's North Division, as it did last year when it shocked the heavily favored Ducks 17-14 in overtime in Autzen Stadium.

Still, the primary focus for both teams was and will be more on themselves this week. There's recruiting calls to make and injured guys needing to get treatment. Both teams have banged-up players whose presence could be critical for the matchup, most notably Stanford with defensive end Henry Anderson and receiver Devon Cajuste. Stanford already announced that defensive end Ben Gardner is out for the season with a pectoral injury.

Earnest game preparation won't begin until the weekend, as both teams are trying to stick to a typical game-week schedule.

Even though both coaches want to keep the emotions contained and treat the matchup like any other, there's no question that the buzz started on their respective campuses not long after each dispatched a tough opponent last Saturday, with the Cardinal winning 20-12 at Oregon State and Oregon running away from UCLA in the fourth quarter for a 42-14 victory.

"We know that it's there," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "The guys know what the game is going to be about."

The teams have split their last four meetings, with Stanford winning in 2009 and 2012. Shaw is 1-1 as the Cardinal head coach against the Ducks and he was 1-1 as the team's offensive coordinator under Jim Harbaugh. This will be Mark Helfrich's first taste as the Oregon head coach; he was the Ducks' offensive coordinator under Chip Kelly the previous four meetings.

While the game will be heated and the stakes high, Shaw and Helfrich seem to get along well. They chatted frequently during the Pac-12 meetings in May. They certainly have a lot in common, as both replaced charismatic former head coaches credited with creating a national power before bolting for the NFL.

And, yes, they talked about exactly that.

"Mark and I talked about that a couple of times," Shaw said. "I think he's done it perfectly. You have to completely take your ego out of it. So many people say from the outside, 'How are you going to make this your program?' You look at it and say, 'This is not my program, it's the kids' program.' Every decision you make is what's best for the kids. And if the scheme is great, who cares if they call it Chip Kelly's scheme? Or Jim Harbaugh's scheme? Whoever, it doesn't matter. The things that work, you don't change. The things that don't work, you take them out."

However, they won't be chatting much over the next six days.

Both coaches subscribed to the notion of nameless, faceless opponents and every game being equally big. That's what elite programs do. Preparation is always the same. Every game is big when conference and national titles are the chief goal.

But the fact is the Oregon-Stanford game is bigger, and has been now for going on four years. We know this because all of the college football nation will be tuning in a week from now, just as it did last year, and in 2011 and 2010.

Planning for success: Stanford

October, 24, 2013
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The last time Stanford saw an extended dose of Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion was two years ago in Corvallis, Ore.

A freshman on a bad team, Mannion was poised and efficient in a 38-13 Stanford win. The performance left a lasting impression with Stanford coach David Shaw and as No. 8 Stanford (6-1, 4-1 Pac-12) prepares for a return to Corvallis on Saturday, Shaw couldn't help but notice his growth since that game.

[+] EnlargeSean Mannion
Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY SportsOregon State quarterback Sean Mannion has thrown for 29 touchdowns passes and just three interceptions this season.
"(Mannion) is playing so much better than he's ever played," Shaw said. "He's always had the talent and the ability, but he's playing so composed and throwing the ball so accurately."

Mannion's 68.6 percent completion percentage is among the nation's best, but that's not what jumped out to Shaw on film.

"I don't know that we've seen a team more dedicated to the deep pass in the last few years than the way they are right now," he said. "The thing is you can try it a lot, but to try it a lot and be so efficient at it?

"Usually deep passing teams, you're hovering around 50 percent completion. These guys are completing about 65 percent of those passes, the deep ball passes."

The stats say Mannion and receiver Brandin Cooks are the nation's most dangerous quarterback-receiver tandem. Mannion leads the nation in passing yards (2,992) and touchdowns (29) and Cooks is tops in receptions (76), receiving yards (1,176) and touchdowns (12). Mannion (Pleasanton) and Cooks (Stockton) are both from northern California.

"The way Cooks is playing right now, there is nobody that he hasn't got behind," Shaw said. "They've tried to double cover him, tried to play off of him. Even when they play off him, he still runs past them."

As good as they've been, Oregon State coach Mike Riley expects Stanford's secondary to provide as difficult a test as the Beavers (6-1, 4-0) have faced this season.

"I think they are very athletic and tough. They really complete," Riley said. "It's a good looking group of guys. They're always well coached and sound in what they do. It's the most athletic group on defense that we've seen so far and they're very sound in what they do."

Safety Jordan Richards is the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week after recording two interceptions last week against UCLA.

As for who will be responsible for slowing down Cooks? Well, that's simple

"Everybody," Shaw said. "He's everybody's responsibility. There's no other way around it. Safeties, corners, nickels all have to be aware where he is."

Shaw left the door open for receiver Devon Cajuste to play against the Beavers despite a right knee injury suffered against the Bruins. An MRI showed no ligament damage and Shaw said if Cajuste isn't ready for Oregon State, he'd be back in time to play Oregon on Nov. 7.

Kicker Jordan Williamson will make the trip to Oregon State, but it's still unclear if he ill play due to an unspecified leg injury. If he's unable to play, Conrad Ukropina would again fill in. He was 1-for-2 on field goals against UCLA, hitting from 31 yards and missing from 46.

At the deepest roots of David Shaw’s coaching philosophy is an unwavering belief in run-first football. That's never going to change. Still, that doesn’t mean the Stanford head coach can’t be just a little bit giddy over what his offense -- specifically the passing attack -- has done so far this season.

Fashioned as Tight End U the past couple of years because of the presence of now-NFLers Coby Fleener, Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, the Cardinal wide receivers have made their presence felt in 2013 after previously yielding the spotlight to the Tree Amigos in 2011 and Twin Towers in 2012.

Through the first four games of 2012, Stanford receivers had just 26 catches for 256 yards and three touchdowns. As a unit, they had just six receiving touchdowns all year. It’s a different story this season. Through the first four games, Stanford receivers have accounted for 42 catches for 770 yards and nine touchdowns.

“It’s what we started to see in spring last year,” Shaw said. “... We feel like we have these guys ready to impact games. It’s fun to see their hard work pay off and them being viable options for us.”

As a result of the wide receivers taking first chair in the passing game, the tight ends have just three catches for 14 yards and zero touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeDevon Cajuste
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonDevon Cajuste broke out last week against Washington State with two long TD receptions.
The Cardinal will need all the firepower they can get when they host No. 15 Washington on Saturday. So far it has been Ty Montgomery as the featured receiver. After a strong freshman campaign, Montgomery was hampered by injuries last season. But he has emerged so far with 20 catches for 327 yards and four touchdowns. Devon Cajuste had a breakout performance last week and has 10 catches for 244 yards and three touchdowns on the season. Michael Rector rounds out the crop of receivers who have reached the end zone, catching three balls for 119 yards and two scores.

But it’s not just the increased targeting of receivers -- it’s also the maturation of quarterback Kevin Hogan, who is delivering the downfield strike with precision and efficiency. In last week’s blowout win over Washington State, he threw three touchdowns of 30-plus yards (33, 45 and 57 yards). That doubled Stanford’s number of 30-plus-yard touchdown passes this season and matched the total of big strikes it had all last year.

“He grows a little bit each week,” Shaw said. “We took more downfield passes this week, and he did a good job of finding guys and hitting them in stride. He understands things better. He sees things better. He’s getting more in the flow of the season, and we go into every game knowing that every defense we play is going to give us something we haven’t seen before, and he’s done a good job recognizing it, coming to the sidelines, talking about it and ready to make adjustments.”

Washington’s secondary should provide an ample test. The Huskies have yet to allow a 200-yard passer and have given up only one touchdown through the air all season. Heading into Saturday’s matchup, the Huskies have the top passing defense and pass efficiency defense in the Pac-12.

“They have a great deal of speed on the perimeter with Montgomery and Rector,” said Washington coach Steve Sarkisian. “Those guys can stretch the field more so than they have in the past. They put a lot of stress on you, because you want to commit yourself to defending the run, which you have to do when playing Stanford, but then the challenge is how do you not give up the big plays? They pose a lot of challenges that way. Hogan is throwing the deep ball really well right now. When guys are open he’s hitting them. That’s the other piece to the puzzle.”

After seeing a mostly tight-end-heavy Stanford team during his career, Washington safety Sean Parker said he’s excited for the opportunity square off against the Cardinal receivers.

“Every year we play receivers that stretch the field,” Parker said. “We’re used to defending down the field and having to man up their key guys. Knowing them, it is a turnaround because we’re used to seeing them running the ball and they get to different formations when they run the ball and then pass off of that. We have to be better with our eye discipline and what we see.”

Perhaps the most important statistic yet to be mentioned is that Hogan is still perfect as a starter (9-0). The Cardinal have won 12 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in the country behind Ohio State, and Hogan is 5-0 against opponents ranked in the top 25. Against ranked opponents, he’s completing 70 percent of his throws with eight touchdown passes and four interceptions, averaging 186 yards per game. He also has added two touchdowns on the ground with an average of 38 rushing yards per game.

Planning for success: Stanford

October, 3, 2013
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When Josh Nunes' lob for Levine Toilolo was intercepted on fourth-and-4 late in Stanford's 17-13 loss to Washington a year ago, receiver Ty Montgomery could only shake his head.

"Disappointment and frustration," was how he described it.

Heading into a rematch against the improved Huskies, Montgomery wasn't thrilled to relive that day at CenturyLink Field.

"I remember how I felt and I don't want to feel that way again," he said.

That doesn't mean revenge is on his mind, either. In fact, the team is on strict orders not to let that become a focus.

"Coach [David] Shaw doesn't want us to think about the word revenge," Montgomery said. "What happened last year happened last year. All we're trying to do is be 1-0 this weekend. That's our focus."

Cliche? Sure.

But considering how different each team is this year, it hasn't been hard for the Cardinal to buy in.

No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) enters Saturday's game at Stanford Stadium, which will be televised on ESPN at 10:30 p.m. ET, with some gaudy stats on both sides of the ball. The Huskies rank No. 4 in the country in scoring defense (10.8), No. 5 in total offense (574.0) and running back Bishop Sankey is the country's leading rusher at 151.8 yards per game.

No. 5 Stanford (4-0, 2-0) knows first-hand the kind of game-changer Sankey can be. He ran for 144 yards on 20 carries a year ago and his 61-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-1 to close the third quarter changed the course of the game. He's coming off a school-record 40 carries for 161 yards in last week's 31-13 win against Arizona.

While the personnel is similar to a year ago for Washington, the big change on offense has been in regards to tempo. The Huskies have averaged 84.3 plays per game compared to just 64.5 for Stanford.

Having played against several teams -- Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State -- that have employed a similar tempo over the past few years, some of the shock-and-awe factor is gone.

"Tempo wise, yeah you get used to making calls and not huddling and communicating quickly," Shaw said. "That part, the operational part does carry over, but they're such different offenses that it's hard to say we just take one game plan and go from one team to the other."

If Washington's moving faster, then Stanford has stretched things out. The one-time tight end capital of college football has been shut down, replaced by more downfield passes to players like Montgomery, Devon Cajuste and Michael Rector.

"[Kevin] Hogan is throwing the deep ball really well right now," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. "When guys are open, he's hitting them. That's the other piece to the puzzle."

Hogan saw just one play a year ago against Washington -- a 5-yard run -- and has rattled off a 9-0 record since being named the starter.

Pac-12 helmet stickers: Week 5

September, 29, 2013
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So who deserves a helmet sticker for a job well done?

Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State: Cooks was the best player on the field in Corvallis, decisively winning his battle with Colorado WR Paul Richardson in the Beavers' 44-17 victory. Cooks caught nine passes for 168 yards (18.7 yards per catch) with two touchdowns. He also rushed five times for 47 yards.

Sean Mannion, QB, Oregon State: Cooks was brilliant, but Mannion was also stellar, throwing six touchdown passes, a new team record. He completed 27 of 52 passes for 414 yards with an interception in the blowout win. That pick, by the way, bounced off the chest of his receiver, so it shouldn't count against him.

Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington: Sankey set a school record with 40 carries in the Huskies' 31-13 win over Arizona. He gained 161 tough yards and scored a TD.

Taylor Kelly, QB, Arizona State: Kelly completed 23 of 34 passes for 351 yards with three touchdowns and an interception in the Sun Devils' 62-41 win over USC. He also rushed for 79 yards on just four carries -- 19.8 yards per pop.

Alden Darby, S, Arizona State: Darby had two interceptions against USC, including one he returned 46 yards for a touchdown. He also forced and recovered a fumble and tied for second on the Sun Devils with seven total tackles

Bralon Addison, PR, Oregon: Addison returned two punts for touchdowns against California, the first for 75 yards and the second for 67 yards.

Devon Cajuste, WR, Stanford: The big receiver was the star of the Cardinal's new downfield passing game. He caught four passes for 115 yards in their 55-17 win over Washington State, including touchdowns of 57 and 33 yards.

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