STANFORD — Stanford is getting some much-needed relief at a crucial time.
Coach David Shaw said Tuesday that wide receiver Devon Cajuste could practice later this week and play Saturday when the eighth-ranked Cardinal (6-1, 4-1) visit Oregon State (6-1, 4-0) in a Pac-12 North tilt. He said an MRI on Cajuste’s right knee showed no ligament damage, and an X-ray confirmed no break.
Cajuste caught seven passes for 109 yards before leaving early in the fourth quarter of Stanford’s 24-10 victory over UCLA last Saturday. Shaw characterized Cajuste’s injury as a bone bruise that is still causing some pain.
If Cajuste can practice Wednesday or Thursday, he will wear a brace on his knee against the Beavers. Either way, Shaw said Cajuste will absolutely be healthy enough for Stanford’s home game against No. 2 Oregon (7-0, 4-0) on Nov. 7.
Shaw also was optimistic that kicker Jordan Williamson could pass tests in practice this week to return at Oregon State after sitting out with a leg injury against UCLA. Redshirt freshman Conrad Ukropina missed a 46-yard field goal that would’ve given Stanford a 10-point lead with 6:24 remaining. In the first quarter, he connected from 31 yards on his first career attempt.
Stanford’s defensive line will still have to go at least one more game without one of its best pass rushers. The earliest defensive end Henry Anderson could come back is against Oregon, Shaw said, but more likely at USC on Nov. 16.
“That’s the longest injury update I think I’ve ever given,” Shaw said.
Indeed, Stanford has been hit harder with injuries this season than in Shaw’s first two years as coach — with the exception of linebacker Shayne Skov’s crippling left knee injury in the third game of the 2011 season. Shaw credits the strength and conditioning program as the biggest reasons why his team has avoided major injuries.
The improved depth on the roster also has helped Stanford absorb the losses.
“That’s always been the goal in recruiting is to recruit smart, tough players and to recruit enough of them so if somebody gets hurts we can still play our style of football,” Shaw said.
Others are still playing through pain.
Defensive end Ben Gardner injured his left arm in the win over Washington on Oct. 5. He said it has been “very painful at times” but not enough to keep him from being effective.
Gardner said doctors have assured him he can’t do any further damage to his arm. He also has to pass tests on the sideline before returning because the symptoms often vary.
“Sometimes my arm just kind of shuts down and then you have to wait for it to come back. Sometimes it comes back quicker than others,” Gardner said.
How much pain Cajuste would need to play through is still unclear.
Coaches initially feared Cajuste could’ve tore a ligament after his right leg bent awkwardly while he was getting tackled. Instead, he was back on the sideline in the final minutes walking and smiling with teammates.
Cajuste ranks second on the team with 21 receptions for 377 yards and four touchdowns this season. Jordan Pratt, the 28-year-old former minor league baseball player, and freshman Francis Owusu split time in Cajuste’s place.
Pratt has one catch for seven yards, and Owusu has played mostly special teams. Both would likely see more time if Cajuste can’t play.
“I was right there when it happened and just heard the pain when he grabbed his knee. That’s tough to watch when Devon’s not just a teammate but a friend,” Pratt said. “I kind of had to tell myself, ‘All right, can’t think about it. You’ve got to go out and you’ve got a job to do.”’
NOTES: Stanford is No. 6 in the first BCS poll released this week. The Cardinal are the highest ranked one-loss team in The Associated Press and BCS polls. But Shaw said he’s not paying attention to the rankings. “Nothing ever surprises me on that stuff,” Shaw said. “I don’t know what to say about it. It’s so early. I wish they’d come out with one (poll) at the end of the season and say who’s playing. We know what it’s for. It’s for the TV shows, it’s for the rankings, it’s for the conversation, it’s for everybody that doesn’t play or coach football.” ... Shaw said he’s not voting in the coaches’ poll, which factors into the BCS, again this year. He said it’s impossible for a coach to watch every game or be an objective voter. “As a coach, you can’t vote with a clear conscience. You can’t do it,” he said. “It’s a farce.”
Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP