One game at a time
A recurring theme came through loud and clear from Coach Harbaugh and his players: Although the team comes into the game as a 30-point favorite, they're taking nothing for granted. After all, it was only two years ago when Stanford experienced a season quite similar to the one Washington State is having this year.
"It's one game at a time," Coach Harbaugh said. "We're still trying to come up ourselves. We understand who we are—we gotta play our best to win. It's really more about us doing the things we need to do to win as a football team."
"We approach them all the same," all-purpose freshman Delano Howell said. "It's not the other team that's gonna beat us, but ourselves that will lead us to defeat."
"They're another team, like any other team we play," defensive tackle Matt Masifilo said. "We play it like it's a championship game, like every game we approach."
"You can't take anybody lightly," Toby Gerhart said. "They're not gonna roll over. It's gonna be a normal game and hopefully we come out on top."
It's easy to take their wods for mere football speak,
but Harbaugh and his players do have a point. Stanford is in no position—and has
rarely ever been—to take other teams lightly.
Bye bye, bye week
The team also touched on the importance of the bye. Harbaugh said that the squad mostly focused on its passing game, both on offense and defense. Hopefully, the weak link throughout the season, most saliently and recently in the devastating loss at UCLA, will show improvement after two weeks' refinement.
"We gave the passing game the most attention in the bye week," Harbaugh said. "We worked on timing, worked on running routes and just getting better. ... Timing, quarterbacks and receivers. That's where it really begins. We had a really good week of practice and I'm looking forward to [Tavita] building on that this week."
"I just threw the heck out of the ball," Tavita Pritchard said of his bye week. "Went back to the basics. Threw, caught and ran. Basics."
Overall, the players and Coach Harbaugh agreed the bye week was productive.
"[The UCLA loss] made me eager to work harder in the bye week," Masifilo said. "It was extra motivation to make sure nothing like that happens again."
Gerhart, whose tough running style has raised questions about whether he'll last through the grueling 12-game schedule, may have benefited the most from the week off.
"I actually had to do a lot of schoolwork," he said. "My body feels a lot better. All my sores are healed. Just get ready to go out and cut them up again."
"He got enough work done," Harbaugh said of Gerhart's workload the past week and a half. "He wasn't totally shut down, but he wasn't in there getting jarred around either."
How-well he plays
In something he has done consistently during this seasons' weekly press conferences, Harbaugh made sure to praise one of the team's unsung forces. This time, it was true freshman running back Delano Howell. Howell has gotten most of his play on special teams this year, but it's clear that he has impressed coaches and players alike with his demeanor and approach to the game.
"He's approaching Owen Marecic status," Harbaugh said. "I love him as a player."
"The kid's a beast," Pritchard said. "He's doing a lot of good things. I'm looking forward to see what he can do in his career."
"He's an animal," Gerhart added. "He's quickly becoming one of Coach Harbaugh's favorites. He's just a football player. And for a young guy, he understands the game."
Howell was business-like, showing appreciation for the rest of his teammates.
"All the seniors welcomed the freshman. As a freshman I've developed well because of the leadership of the upperclassmen I'd say.
"I've learned football all over again," Howell said. "I've been following [Kimble and Gerhart]. I've been able to look at the game of football in a different way."
A homecoming of sorts
Pritchard, who grew up a Washington State fan, also spoke on what he anticipates facing the team he once cheered.
"It's tough, especially with a bye week," Pritchard said. "I think [the UCLA loss] left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. Mine, especially.
"Washington State will always have a special place in my heart," added Pritchard, whose cousin and several friends play for the Cougars. "I grew up bleeding crimson and grey. I bleed a little more Cardinal than crimson now."
Lastly, Harbaugh and his players commented on the aggressive attitude and physical play of the Cardinal. It's undoubtedly a large factor behind the team's success, but it also may be responsible for some of the team's mistakes. After all, Stanford suffered more than 100 yards of penalties in the loss to UCLA.
"Our attitude has been really good," Harbaugh said. "Morale, attitude, those things have been so good…It's a confident team because the team works hard. They're determined and believe in themselves. This is an exciting bunch to coach. I feel this: we've still got more to play. We've got more opportunities to accomplish the goals we set out.
"We play aggressive. The difference between playing aggressive and getting penalized is the whistle. You gotta think. You gotta be smart. You gotta know where you are on the football field."
"It's something we've stressed a lot," free safety Bo McNally said in regards to sloppy penalties. "It's at the point where it's really hurting us…It's a matter of mental discipline. Knowing when to pull up."
The Cardinal might be able to get away with a few mental mistakes against the Cougars Saturday, as loathe as they may be to admit it. But if the team is smart, it'll use this weekend to fine-tune for the final gauntlet that awaits: Oregon, USC and Cal.
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