PALO ALTO, Calif. -- No doubt, the Stanford Cardinal are limping into their game on Saturday against Oregon. After avoiding the injury bug in the early stages of the season, the Cardinal have been hit hard in the last few weeks. Here's a look at key injuries heading into the Oregon game and how the player's status will impact the game.
Delano Howell, safety
Time missed: Three games.
Status: Will play.
What it means: The Cardinal get a sorely-needed veteran presence in the secondary to go alongside Michael Thomas. Aside from linebacker Shayne Skov, who went down in the third game of the year and was lost for the season, Howell is probably the best pure tackler on the team. He's considered the hardest hitter and will bring some stability to a defensive backfield that has been less-than-stable in recent weeks.
Zach Ertz, tight end
Time missed: All of the USC game (except for the opening kickoff, when he got hurt) and all of the Oregon State game.
If he plays: He won't be 100 percent -- maybe not even 75 percent. But his presence alone allows the Cardinal to be multiple with their three-tight-end formations and mid-range passing game. Quarterback Andrew Luck targets Ertz more than his other two tight ends -- especially on third down. When Ertz is in the game, safeties have to respect him on the mid-range drag routes. That usually opens things up for the wide receivers on the outside or single coverage on tight end Coby Fleener on the deeper routes.
If he doesn't play: We'll see similar formations to what we saw in the Oregon State game, which includes multiple fullbacks and fullback Ryan Hewitt lining up more in the slot and motioning out of the backfield. While all three tight ends are inter-changeable, each brings their own individual skill set. There is no replacement player for Ertz and what he brings to the offense.
Chris Owusu, wide receiver
Time missed: The second half of the Oregon State game.
What it means: Griff Whalen has emerged as solid No. 1 receiving option for Luck. Whalen has proven to be reliable on third downs, crisp in his route running and is a good blocker down the field. Head coach David Shaw confirmed earlier Tuesday that Ty Montgomery will get the start in place of Owusu. No one on the team can match Owusu's speed, but there are other playmakers who can fill his role. Shaw described Montgomery as "a proven commodity" who has earned his playing time through special teams and a very good understanding of the offense for a true freshman.
Jordan Williamson, kicker
Time missed: Two games.
Status: Probable -- game time decision.
If he plays: Williamson has been the pleasant surprise of the season since stepping in to the starting kicker spot. He's converted 11-of-12 field goals and his kickoffs have improved every week. The coaching staff has complete confidence putting him on the field to kick in almost any situation.
If he doesn't: Eric Whitaker has proven to be equally clutch. He's made all three of his field goals -- including a late-game field goal against USC and he's converted all of his PATs -- including two in overtime against the Trojans. The only drop-off between the two has been on kickoffs, where Whitaker has three kicks out of bounds since coming in for Williamson. Plus, his longest attempt has been 33 yards so we don't know what kind of faith the coaches have in him outside of 40 yards.
Cameron Fleming, offensive tackle
Injury: "Lower leg."
Time missed: Part of the USC game and all of the Oregon State game.
Status: Questionable -- late week decision.
If he plays: The offensive line returns to continuity. The same five had started every game together through the USC contest. He's improved every week -- particularly in his pass blocking, where Luck had only been sacked twice prior to the USC game.
If he doesn't: Tyler Mabry stepped in and played well against Oregon State. Because Stanford uses so many different formations -- including a six- and seven-lineman jumbo formation -- many of the reserve offensive linemen have seen playing time. Mabry is a fifth-year senior and brings a veteran presence.
Levine Toilolo, tight end
Injury: "Upper body."
Time missed: Three quarters of the Oregon State game.
Status: Will play.
What it means: At least two of the three tight ends will be available against Oregon, which is good news for Luck. Hewitt showed his versatility last week against Oregon State, filling the role of the third tight end -- among other positions -- so expect to see more of him in third spot when the Cardinal go into the three-tight-end sets. Toilolo's height (6-8) makes him an excellent red zone target for Luck.