By Rick Eymer
Kodi Whitfield's first career touchdown reception became an instant classic. The play nearly ended before it started.
"I got pressed at the line," Whitfield said. "It was more about how I could recover."
Whitfield's 30-yard catch helped give Stanford a 24-10 victory over UCLA last Saturday in Stanford Stadium. The victory kept the eighth-ranked Cardinal (4-1, 6-1) in the Pac-12 Conference title race.
Stanford has another big test Saturday night when it travels to Corvallis to take on Oregon State (4-0, 6-1) in a 7:30 p.m. scheduled kickoff. The Bruins (2-1, 5-1) will also be in Oregon, meeting the Ducks (4-0, 7-0) in Eugene.
Those two games feature the top four teams, in terms of overall record, in the Pac-12. The results will help determine who stays on the road to the Pac-12 championship game.
Whitfield had more at stake than just making the catch. There were three former Loyola (Los Angeles) high school teammates wearing UCLA jerseys, including linebacker Anthony Barr, who had one of the best views of the play.
In addition, Whitfield was being covered by Ishmael Adams, who hails from Woodland Hills, a city within breathing distance of L.A., and safety Anthony Jefferson, from Los Angeles Cathedral, was coming over to help.
"I know a lot of those guys," said Whitfield, who also had an ally from Loyola on his side, kicker Conrad Ukropina.
Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan had his eyes on Whitfield from the start. When Whitfield looked back, the ball was already in the air.
"When we watched the film later, we could see there were better options," Whitfield said.
All Whitfield could do was try to catch it. Adams was draped all over him and Jefferson thought he could intercept it. Whitfield was sandwiched between the two Bruins.
He jumped, reached out with one hand, somehow grabbed the ball and cradled it to his stomach as he bounced into the end zone.
"That was a 'wow' moment," Stanford wide receiver Jordan Pratt said. "He seems to always come up with the ball."
UCLA redshirt freshman Jerry Neuheisel, a former Loyola teammate, came up to Whitfield afterward. "He said 'you never caught one like that for me,'" Whitfield said. Bruins' backup safety Librado Barocio is also a former prep teammate.
Whitfield's father, former Stanford All-American tackle Bob Whitfield, was in the house. His first
words to his son?
"The first thing he said was 'how did you miss that block on the 98 power?'" Whitfield said.
If there's one thing Bob Whitfield knows, it's blocking. He made a career out of it for 16 years in the NFL, twice named all-Pro.
"We talk football a lot," Kodi said. "Especially how my blocking can improve. He can't help with footwork, though, because he was moving backward and I'm moving forward."
When the younger Whitfield came to Stanford, Bob decided it was time to finish his degree (he declared for the NFL following his junior season) at Stanford. They were never in the same class, though other Cardinal players were classmates.
"He tries to say he's faster," Kodi Whitfield said. "I like to say I'm smarter. He's taken too many blows to the head."
With 11 catches, Whitfield ranks third on the team this season behind Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste. He gives the Cardinal an added dimension that other teams will have to start accounting for when preparing for Stanford's passing game.
"I always want to expect the ball," Whitfield said. "I'd like to think I can catch anything. On balls thrown high, you want to get it down and tucked away so there's no gray area."
Montgomery, sixth in the nation in all-purpose yards, continued his fabulous season. He's averaging 80.6 receiving yards a game and has been dragging would-be tacklers along for extra yardage.
"The thing with Ty is you just have to get him the ball," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "He acts like a running back. He doesn't want to be tackled. He's quietly becoming one of the best players in the nation."
The ball should be in the air quite a bit at Oregon State. Beavers' quarterback Sean Mannion leads the nation with 2,992 passing yards and 414.3 total offensive yards per game. His efficiency rating is 168.21, seventh-best in the nation.
Mannion completes nearly 69 percent of his passes and has thrown just four interceptions. His favorite target is Brandin Cooks, who is second in the nation in scoring and fourth in all-purpose yards.
"That's the best duo in the nation so far," Stanford defensive end Ben Gardner said. "It's going to be a great showdown. They've done a lot of great things. They have our full attention."
Gardner has been dealing with an arm issue this season. It's been problematic the past three weeks.
"It's painful at times, but most of the time I am able to deal with it," Gardner said. "It's just something to push through. Sometimes the arm just shuts down and I have to wait for it to come back."
Stanford's rivalry with Oregon State dates to 1919 and is the Cardinal's fifth-oldest rivalry. Stanford has won three straight from the Beavers, outscoring them by a 103-36 margin in that span.