Despite falling behind early in Saturday's mistake-ridden loss at Notre Dame, the Cardinal still ran the ball effectively. It's been a trend that appears to be taking hold—Stanford has averaged 204 rushing yards over its last three games.
A big topic of discussion during Tuesday's press conference was the success of the run game, and while players and coaches alike cited a lack of injuries and an improved offensive line as key factors, they also made sure to praise one of the team's more unsung heroes: fullback Owen Marecic.
"He epitomizes football player," Tavita Pritchard said. "He doesn't say much, he just hits people."
"How wide can I make my hands?" Offensive coordinator David Shaw said when he was asked to describe the impact Marecic has made this year. "He's an outstanding fullback, not a good fullback."
"[He's] one of the best pure football players I've played with," running back Anthony Kimble said. "As a running back you can't ask for a better fullback to run behind."
"He just likes to hit people," Toby Gerhart added. "He doesn't ever complain [about not getting carries]. He's been huge to this offense and huge to our success."
It's great to see the sophomore get heaps of credit at a position typically unheralded. It's unnatural for the normal football fan (and even casual observers like myself, whose understanding of football ends at Madden '09) to pay attention to the blocking that's going on during the middle of a play, so it takes insight from players and coaches to better understand the impact Marecic has made this season for the Cardinal.
Center Alex Fletcher also talked about the recent success of the run game, talking about the offensive line's improvement under Coach Chris Dalman.
"A lot of it is that we've had a healthy Toby Gerhart and Anthony Kimble," he said. "We've [also] been able to give the team a cushion. No one's getting pushed back on the O-line. That's the biggest difference. We're getting movement. Obviously the O-line has done a great job, but Marecic and [tight end Jim] Dray were great against Notre Dame last week [too].
"You look at Trent Edwards now, we could have done a lot better for him. We could have done better for a lot of guys," said Fletcher, referencing the O-line's past woes. "I think we're finally coming around. A lot of it is our attitude.
"It's not even close," Fletcher said of the difference Dalman, who played in the NFL up until 2000, has brought to the line. "He has the most modern technique that you could teach anybody."
Fletcher's comments seem to be emblematic of the change we've seen since Harbaugh took the helm nearly two years ago.
Another hot topic at Tuesday's conference was, obviously, this weekend's homecoming match-up with the 4-1 Arizona Wildcats. The public has thought for years that the Wildcats were on the verge of a breakout season under Coach Mike Stoops, and from the way things look so far, this just might be that year.
Arizona is averaging more than 43 points a game, good for eighth in the NCAA. Their schedule hasn't been much of a test, but that's still a lot of points.
"We're confident in our offense," Gerhart said. "As an offense, we have to be prepared to outscore them, so whatever that takes."
"It's a big challenge," safety Bo McNally said. "[Willie] Tuitama's an experienced quarterback and he does a lot of good things. All we need to do is focus on us. As a secondary we felt like we let the team down this past week."
Tuitama has been a beast at quarterback this year, throwing for 13 touchdowns and only two interceptions at a 66 percent completion rate. As McNally said himself, the secondary was one of the weak links against the Irish this past weekend, so it's going to be interesting to see whether or not the Cardinal pass defense steps up to the challenge on Saturday.
Fletcher also spoke of the Wildcats' defense, an often underrated unit.
"[They've got] speed. Arizona always has a top-three defense [in the Pac-10]," Fletcher said. "The reason I say that is just the overall speed. Coach Stoops always has a really good defense, a fast defense and a physical defense. It's gonna be a challenge, and they play hard."
Coach Shaw subbed for Coach Jim Harbaugh, who missed Tuesday's conference for personal reasons. Shaw hopes that the homecoming morale boost will help Saturday.
"We'd love some home cooking," he said. "We've got kids coming back, alums coming back."
Antoine Cason—the ‘Cats star cornerback last year and a first-round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft—might be gone, but that's not holding back Arizona, off to its best start in years.
"They are very good," Shaw said. "They have been very successful. They might not have the marquee guy but they play very well."
Finally, Saturday's game against the Wildcats is notable as it kicks off the second half of Stanford's season. Though the Cardinal has lost a few winnable games so far, the consensus is that the team is right where it wants to be.
"We're getting close," Shaw said. "We're on the verge. But once again, it's on us to play consistent."
"Get three wins to get to a bowl," cornerback Kris Evans said. "Try to win six games if we can."
"We've shown that we can be better than 3-3," McNally said. "The bottom line with us is consistency."
"We're set," Kimball said. "We're still contention for a bowl game. It's all about the next six."
They all said it. Six more games. Win three get to a bowl.
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