Red Zone Report: Toby and Tavita

Toby keeps on chugging along: if the Cardinal is going to win as many games as possible this season, its best chance is with Toby as the workhorse back. The true test of a quarterback is the final score, and Tavita Pritchard succeeded in that respect Saturday. Meanwhile, special teams continues its stellar play on the year.

Toby keeps chugging along

We all knew that injuries had slowed down Toby Gerhart over the past few years. We all knew that he was a talented back, the kind of guy that could make an impact on a team like Stanford. But did we know he was this good?

I certainly didn't.

"We just kept pounding it," Gerhart said after the Cardinal's 23-6 win over San Jose State Saturday. "We knew something would eventually break open."

Pounding it seems to be Gerhart's M.O. and the Spartans found out the hard way. Gerhart carried the ball 22 times for 148 yards, thoroughly wearing down their defense in the second half. It took more than one tackler to take down the bruising Gerhart. Though Stanford's defense was certainly key in the second half, the Cardinal offense also awoke, keeping the ball out of the Spartans' hands as the team got into a rhythm.

And while Tavita Pritchard played one of his best games of the year, don't be fooled. Gerhart was responsible for the Cardinal's success on offense.

Anthony Kimble has had success in the past and is a serviceable back. But at this point, there's no reason to not give the ball to Toby as much as possible. He's Stanford's most consistent weapon, period.

Just a third of the way into the season, the junior already has more yards than he had in each of his first two seasons. It's likely that he'll get over the 1,000 yard mark this season, if, you guessed it, he stays healthy.

Thoughts on Tavita

The play of quarterback Tavita Pritchard has been less than impressive this season. Pritchard carries mediocre numbers, completing 45 of 82 passes for 469 yards in four games. He has one touchdown to four interceptions. During Saturday's game against the Spartans, he hung his receivers out to dry for big hits on more than one occasion. Though he had a big game running the ball ("He went out and played a good game," Coach Harbaugh said. "It was probably the best I've seen Tavita with his feet."), it was still a mediocre performance by any quarterback's standards.

But Jim Harbaugh is standing by his man.

"I am pleased to see the way he's handling the nature of the business, the nature of playing quarterback," he said during Tuesday's weekly press conference. "You are going to have people who doubt you, compete for your job and people who are going to blog in with their opinions on who should be quarterback. That's just the nature of that job. I want to compliment him on the way he's handled himself."

Many have called for Harbaugh to replace Pritchard with heralded frosh Andrew Luck, but Tavita seems to be hanging on to the job. Sure, his play hasn't been great this season and he's definitely not your prototypical quarterback, but he's quarterbacked the Cardinal to two wins. I'd expect that most Stanford fans are happy, or at least satisfied, to be sitting with a 2-2 record.

And, maybe most importantly, Tavita has handled himself the way a quarterback should. His laid-back but professional attitude can only be a positive influence for this team. When he was asked after the game about the pressure of keeping his job, he said, without the slightest trace of hesitation or angst, "You control the things you can control."

Now, while it's clear that Tavita is not going to lead the Cardinal to any kind of major glory — he still has his deficiencies as a quarterback — he's already shown that he can win ballgames. Andrew Luck may be the future, but Tavita is now. There's no way around it. Props to Pritchard for, in the midst of all the talk, just minding his own business and doing what he can do to help this Stanford team win games.

Scoping out the Red Zone

Saturday's game was the first for hundreds of freshman, and there was a palpable enthusiasm going around. San Jose State brought a sizeable crowd of a couple thousand which also roared as much as it could after big plays. While it certainly wasn't an SEC- or Big-12-type atmosphere, there definitely was excitement in the stands at Stanford Stadium. Not a bad first game for the freshman (especially compared to my first official Stanford football experience. I'm usually a pretty loyal fan but I left at halftime, no joke.)

It was also good to see frosh and seniors alike singing the alma mater, even though I was down on the field instead of the stands. There's nothing better than savoring the slow, melodic tune of any school's alma mater after a hard-fought victory. And I'm not trying to be dramatic when I say that.

Special again

Special teams continue to come up big for Stanford.  Sophomore punter David Green had another solid game, and of course, Aaron Zagory, affectionately known as "Zags" by teammates and coaches alike, had a career game.

"To go out and kick a 52-yarder like he did the other day along with two other ones, he looks like a pro kicker out there," Harbaugh said. "What a phenomenal story. 

"Zags has worked extremely hard. It's [kicking] a strength of our football team. His performance the other night changed the complexion of that football game."

Zags' 52-yard kick had plenty of leg, too probably room for five or more yards from my view in the press box.

Huskies up next

Big game this weekend for the Cardinal. Every game's going to be a big game for Stanford from here on out, or at least to the optimistic fans like me who see every victory as one step closer to qualifying for a bowl game. Stanford's next five games all look to be winnable (or, in other words, we won't be huge underdogs in any of them). This is the critical stretch of the schedule for the team this season.

I haven't seen the Huskies play yet this season, but we've all heard plenty about Jake Locker. Harbaugh raved about the sophomore during Tuesday's press conference.

"We've faced some pretty talented quarterbacks in the first four weeks and Jake Locker, in my opinion, is the best of all of them.

He poses a huge threat," Harbaugh continued. "He's a great football player." 

Washington is winless, but it doesn't take a football guru to dismiss that information — all three losses have come against top-25 teams. Let's just hope that the Cardinal can duplicate its performance in Seattle two years ago, when it won on big plays from the defense in the team's only victory of that miserable, miserable year.

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Junior Jack Salisbury covers Stanford football for the Stanford Daily. Contact him at jack24 at

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