By Daniel Wu
When football finally returns to Stanford Stadium on Saturday, the team will have to defend their home field shorthanded.
Junior running back Austin Jones, sophomore running backs Casey Filkins and EJ Smith and fifth year safety Noah Williams have been ruled out for Saturday’s game against No. 24 UCLA (2-1, 0-0 Pac-12), head coach David Shaw announced on Tuesday.
Smith will be out at least two or three weeks, Shaw said. Jones and Filkins “hopefully” will be back in time for next week’s showdown against No.3 Oregon.
Additionally, fifth-year tight end/defensive end Tucker Fisk is questionable, while cornerbacks senior Ethan Bonner and junior Zahran Manley are doubtful. Fisk and Manley appear on this week’s depth chart, while Bonner and, strangely, sophomore tight end Benjamin Yurosek are absent.
The Cardinal has dealt with injuries all season. But it’s unclear what sidelined the players ruled out early this week—two starters in Jones and Williams and almost the entire depth of a once-loaded running back room. Smith limped off the field late in the fourth quarter of last Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt. He seemingly injured his leg after landing hard on a leap into the endzone for his first career touchdown. Jones, Filkins and Williams appeared to finish the game.
Stanford Athletics spokesperson Scott Swegan declined to answer The Daily’s inquiry if any players’ unavailability was due to COVID-19 protocols and what percentage of Stanford’s roster is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Around 85% of Stanford’s roster was fully vaccinated as of August, according to the vaccination rates of Pac-12 football teams gathered by the Mercury News. Shaw also confirmed that number in a press conference. The percentage is among the lowest vaccination rates in Pac-12 football.
Last year, Stanford played its entire season without recording a positive COVID-19 test (save for three positives in the first week found to be testing errors) despite playing and practicing entirely on the road for the latter half of the season.
Few teams could comfortably survive the absence of three of their top four running backs. But the Cardinal will have a more than adequate starter for UCLA in junior Nathaniel Peat, who leads the team in rushing yards. Behind him, though, the position is suddenly razor-thin. Sophomore Caleb Robinson will back up Peat in his first career appearance.
Sophomore wide receiver Bryce Farrell will fill in for both Peat and Filkins on special teams, where the duo has excelled so far this year returning kickoffs and punts, respectively.
Williams’ absence continues the devastation of Stanford’s secondary. If Bonner and Manley are also unable to play on Saturday, five of the Cardinal’s top defensive backs (also including junior safety Jonathan McGill and junior cornerback Salim Turner-Muhammad, who have been injured since the season began) will be watching the UCLA game from the sidelines. True freshmen Jimmy Wyrick, Jaden Slocum and Mitch Leighber are among the newer players who will have to replace them.
“A couple years ago, we were really thin, and injuries like that would have been really brutal for us,” Shaw said on Tuesday. “Right now we have good depth. [We] feel good about who we have.”