In Their Words: Pre-UCLA Presser

Jim Harbaugh says of which player, "I haven't been around a better captain in all my years of football?" Jim Harbaugh has a prediction on whether Tavita Pritchard will play Saturday -- what is it? Plus, the team tackles Toby Gerhart's quest to become a 1,000-yard back, the prowess of the offensive line and Stanford's recent history against UCLA. Read on for more...

Stanford junior Jack Salisbury sat in on Tuesday's weekly press conference as Coach Harbaugh and Co. discussed the Arizona game, the status of Tavita Pritchard and the team's mindset going into the UCLA game.

Things are looking up for quarterback Tavita Pritchard, who should be cleared in the next day for Saturday's match-up with the Bruins.

"I just got my bell rung," Pritchard said, describing the play on which he left the game. "The rest is history. [It was] a mild concussion. ... I feel great. I'm right on track. Yesterday I did a bike workout and then I did a lift today. If you stay asymptomatic you get cleared."

"I anticipate it's likely he will play," Harbaugh said.

In other news, the Cardinal running game continued its recent tear, going for a season-high 286 yards against the Wildcats. Kimble and Gerhart were equally effective, with Gerhart pounding away at the Arizona defense and Kimble connecting on another memorable home run for 70 yards.

Harbaugh and a few of the players talked about the success of the running game. As you might expect, the credit started right up front with the offensive line.

"The play of the offensive line," Harbaugh said. "The biggest key has been probably Alex Fletcher, who has played consistently since he was a freshman. His move back to his natural center position has been a key for this group. I haven't been around a better captain in all my years of football than Alex."

"It feels great," Gerhart said after being named Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against Arizona. "It was surprising. All the credit goes to everybody else—they're the ones that open the holes."

"The offensive line [has been great]," Pritchard said. "I feel like I'm talking about them every week. It's not political. They're playing their butts off."

"That's where the leadership's coming from: the offensive line," Harbaugh later said. "That's exactly where you want it to come from. They're usually the most team-oriented, they don't have stats to check every week."

Despite Gerhart's humility, Harbaugh made sure to praise the junior who has a solid chance of becoming the Cardinal's first 1,000-yard rusher since the mid '90s.

"This year he's been amazing," Harbaugh said. "[One of] the toughest runners I've been around. His leg drive, his ability to get yards after contact, his vision has been superb. And he's light on his feet for what he weighs: 230. 1,000-yard backs are tough to come by."

It really has been a treat to watch the Cardinal run game progress this year. With Anthony Kimble and Toby Gerhart both healthy, it seems like the team has been running downhill the past few weeks. The running game often has a lot to do with a team's persona and mentality, and the continued success of the backs is emblematic of the blue-collar type of ethic this Stanford team carries.

The Cardinal defense's "bend but don't break" showing against the Wildcats was also a topic of discussion on Tuesday.

"I don't think you can point out one thing, red-zone defense is a refusal to let the other guy in," Clinton Snyder said in response to what the Cardinal did to stop the Wildcats.

"It's huge," Gerhart said. "Three points is easier to overcome than a touchdown. It allows us to somewhat stick with our game plan."

Much of the rest of the press conference was dedicated to this weekend's bout with the Bruins. Though UCLA is just 2-4 and has already suffered a few embarrassing losses on the season, Stanford definitely isn't overlooking the Bruins—after all, the team was shut out in its last two outings at the Rose Bowl. Stanford knows it still has plenty of work to do this year.

"We are not where we would like to be," Harbaugh said. "We would have liked to win more games at this point. Everything we set out to do at the beginning of the season is still out there for us. For us to win a conference championship, we're going to have to win every game. It starts this week.

"We gotta get that straightened out," Harbaugh said of the negative turnover margin that has plagued the Cardinal in recent games. "You can't be a championship team or a winning team if you turn the ball over and don't force turnovers. Creating turnovers wins games. Avoiding turnovers wins championships.

"Given our recent history against UCLA and last year's game, where we got whipped, it's affected my sleep for the last 387 days. It left a bad taste in all of mouths."
"We talked about it a bit," Baldwin said of traveling to the Rose Bowl. "For us it's not that big of a deal. It's a business trip, not a pleasure trip. … We're gonna have to take it to them. They're inviting me to their house to come and do some damage. That's how [Ryan] Whalen and I look at it."
"It's huge. We're 4-3 right now," Pritchard said. "It's UCLA on the road. A conference opponent and a good one at that—they have a lot of good athletes."

Harbaugh may have a personal axe to grind with the Bruins, too, citing a complete lack of success in the past against the boys from Westwood.

"I've never been associated with a team that's beaten UCLA—coaching or playing," he said. "And there's nobody in our locker room that's beaten UCLA, player-wise. There's only one way to rectify that and that's to go down there and get a win. All of our focus is on this game coming up.

"It's staring us in the face right now. This is one of the biggest challenges we'll face all season. I'm not calling it life-or-death, but it's close."

Mentioning phrases like life-or-death may border on histrionic, but the players and coaches have reason to be placing so much emphasis on this game. At this point in the season, Cardinal fans, coaches and players alike have just one thing on their mind: getting six wins on the season. Stanford's magic number is two, and for a program that hasn't been to a bowl game since the Tyrone Willingham era, every game until those two wins are reached is the biggest of the season.

I guess that's what makes college football exciting. I don't fault players and coaches when they say that every game is a must-win, because every game pretty much is.

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