Stanford's preparation for Friday's Pac-12 North football game at Oregon State began in the locker room at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum last Saturday night.
Yes, the Cardinal had just earned a momentous 41-31 road victory over the sixth-ranked Trojans, redeeming itself to some extent after struggles during the first two games that dropped Stanford out of the Top 25. But David Shaw, Stanford's head coach, was quick to recognize that a celebration would have to be tempered.
"We haven't earned the right to be overconfident," Shaw said. "We played one really good game from start to finish -- one out of three. We're trying to build some momentum. We're trying to be the team we want to be. And the team that we want to be doesn't worry about what happened in the last game. We worry about what happens in the next game.
"I started in the locker room at USC. We didn't accomplish any of our goals against USC. We won a football game and played well. We have to back it up with another good football game -- on the road, conference opponent, and raucous, loud environment. All the games we've played at Oregon State in the past few years have been tough. Our guys understand that."
Quarterback Kevin Hogan played through a lower leg injury for most of the second half against USC, but his status for Friday may not be determined until game time.
If Hogan can't go, junior Ryan Burns or sophomore Keller Chryst from Palo Alto High will be prepared to start, though neither has played significantly.
Because only three quarterbacks are on the roster, the team also has an "emergency emergency plan," as Shaw calls it. Quarterback-turned-safety Dallas Lloyd is the most likely to step in, but the coaches also are looking at other options, such as freshman receiver Jay Tyler, who broke passing records at Isidore Newman School in New Orleans, Peyton Manning's alma mater.
Hogan, though limping noticeably, had perhaps his best performance in four seasons as a Stanford starter, even picking up some big yards running after suffering the injury.
At the outset of the season, Shaw said it typically takes four games before a team can be accurately evaluated. After the victory over No. 6 USC, Shaw said he learned quite a bit from the 41-31 triumph.
"I learned we're as resilient as we're going to need to be," Shaw said. "I learned that we're athletic, that we can be physical up front and run the football when we need to, and that we can make big plays in our passing game with our tight ends, receivers and running backs.
"We're on the way to being the team we want to be, and now it's about being consistent. Can we get that same effort this week in Corvallis?"
Stable of backs
Stanford uses four running backs -- McCaffrey, Bryce Love, Barry Sanders and Remound Wright -- and all have been productive in different ways. McCaffrey had his first 100-yard rushing game, Wright scored three touchdowns, Love has proved to be explosive, and Sanders has moves that no one on the team can match.
Can all four running backs remain content?
"One can assume it would be tough, but when you practice with these guys and you form a bond with these guys and you realize they can help your team win, at the end of the day, it's all about winning and losing games for us," McCaffrey said. "We understand if a coach thinks a guy should be in and he'll help us win, we want to do it. It's definitely something we've come to grips with. We appreciate each other."
Shaw said the number of snaps for each is determined by the game.
"The guys are learning that the game has ebb and flow to it," Shaw said. "One week it might be your week to shine, on another it might be someone else's. The bottom line, everyone comes and prepares and cheers on the guy who has a great game."
Junior tight end Austin Hooper had a breakthrough game against USC, with four catches for 79 yards and each reception seemed to be crucial.
"It's all coming together," Shaw said of Hooper's progress. "We all felt that it would. It's just coming together a lot faster than maybe we anticipated."
Hooper and Devon Cajuste are examples of the mismatches that Stanford can create in the passing game.
"Talk to most quarterbacks, and they like big targets," Shaw said. "When they're covered, they're not really covered. You have a chance to put the ball high and it's a completion or an incompletion, but there's really no chance to get intercepted. It decreases you're margin for error. You don't have to throw the perfect ball all the time. Those guys definitely give you that."
Just for kicks
Senior kicker Conrad Ukropina, a first-year starter, has been impressive in his ability to make big kicks. He had a 52-yard field goal against UCF and a clinching 46-yarder against USC. He is perfect on five three-point tries.
"He's exhibiting the toughness you want a kicker to exhibit," Shaw said. "I learned a long time ago that every player in every position on a football team needs to show toughness on a daily basis. That comes from Bill Walsh. You want tough high-character people that are good at their jobs. That's how Conrad has been."
Portland (Ore.) has become a pipeline of sorts for Stanford. Former Cardinal two-way star Owen Marecic, an All-America and NFL player, was a Portland native. So are sophomore linebacker Joey Alfieri, and brothers Brennan and Cameron Scarlett.
"It's a not-very-well-known football area," Shaw said. "But there's a lot of good football. We have somewhat of an advantage because there are a lot of Stanford alums up there. Our name travels pretty well."
Words of wisdom
In his pregame speech before the USC game, Shaw asked any who had played in a Pac-12 Championship Game (in 2012 and 2013) to stand up. Shaw said the idea came to him late in the week.
"It was something I wanted our guys to internalize and say, 'Yeah, we haven't played our best, but it wasn't too long ago when we were the best in the conference.' It was time for us to start playing like it."
The rest of the message was something like, "We'll walk on the field with confidence. We've accomplished a lot. And now we've got to accomplish it today."
For Shaw, there is an art to the pregame speech.
"I try to give the guys what I think they need to get ready for a football game," Shaw said. "I don't want it to be too long, I don't want it to be too much, I don't want it to be too deep. I pray about it a little bit, I think about it, and I let it come to me."
Quote of the week
"With our offensive line, anything's possible." -- Christian McCaffrey