In Their Words: Oregon Trail

All roads lead to Oregon for Stanford, and Jim Harbaugh, Alex Fletcher, Toby Gerhart and Clinton Snyder speak on the Ducks' rush attack and homefield advantage. Plus, Jack Salisbury reports the latest on Chris Marinelli and Owen Marecic's health.

Junior Jack Salisbury sat in on Tuesday's weekly Stanford football conference. Plenty is on the Cardinals' minds, as the team is looking to make a little history in its own right.


Needless to say, Tuesday was a historic day across America. But it was business as usual back on the Farm, as Coach Jim Harbaugh and a stable of players talked about the upcoming game against the Ducks and the general state of the team heading into the season-ending gauntlet of Oregon, USC and Cal.


The Cardinal and Ducks seem to be mirror images of each other. Both teams center themselves around physical play — they're No. 1 and 2 in the Pac-10 in rushing yards. Oregon leads the conference far and away in that statistic, averaging more than 270 yards per game. Coach Jim Harbaugh and Co. are well aware of the challenge they face in containing option quarterback Jeremiah Masoli and the running back tandem of LeGarrette Blount and Jeremiah Johnson.


"[They're] physical," Harbaugh said. "They run the ball really well. There's a lot of spread offenses out there, but Oregon's is a physical one.


"Big, strong men up front. It's a seasoned group," Harbaugh continued. "They're mature. They've been in big games. In my opinion they've got some really good backs. Masoli's a physical-style running quarterback. He took a shot in the [Cal] game, and the very next play he ran the defensive back over. [He] lowered the boom and fed the DB some shoulder pads."


"The biggest key for us on defense is everyone knowing their job," linebacker Clinton Snyder said. "We're focused on doing our job individually. They like to rush the ball and we have a good idea of how they do that."


Snyder's right: the Cardinal should have a better idea of what the Ducks are up to than any other team in the Pac-10. After all, the defensive unit faces nearly the same thing every day in practice. Oregon's offense is more spread-oriented than Stanford's, but both teams utilize an option quarterback to open up the running game for two talented tailbacks.


On the topic of the Card's dynamic, but often inconsistent offense, Coach Harbaugh said that the coaching staff does not have a master plan, but does what it thinks will be most effective each game.


"We're not concerned about the system," Harbaugh said when asked if he thought the offense needed more stability. "It's a system that goes week-to-week to determine how we can move the football best. I'm not concerned about balance necessarily. It's gonna be whatever we can do to move the ball best, score touchdowns and put points on the board."


Judging from his comments and what he has said in recent weeks, it's likely that quarterback Alex Loukas will again see significant time running the option. Starting quarterback Tavita Pritchard said he hopes to get a crack at the Oregon secondary, though.


"You never know how the defense will respond," Pritchard said. "I'd like to throw it more. We'll see."


The team is also preparing to take the field at Autzen Stadium, arguably the toughest place to play in the conference. The Cardinal won't be doing anything particular to prepare for Saturday's game—the team practices with loud music in the background on a weekly basis anyways—but the coach and his players were well aware of what they'll be up against in Eugene.


"It's tough," senior center Alex Fletcher said. "I've played there once and got blown out. It's loud…It's tough on third down. It's so loud you can't hear a thing."


Toby Gerhart's first collegiate game took place at Oregon: "It was loud. I remember taking the field and them booing me," he said. "I said, ‘Wow, this is college football.' It's gonna be fun going back there again."


"We've been there before," Pritchard said. "Autzen has a reputation for being in a league of its own. It'll be an exciting adventure. We've had to prepare for this before. It's really about focus, being locked into the game plan. Preparation is going to be key this week."


In terms of injuries, Coach Harbaugh said that he expects junior offensive tackle Chris Marinelli to play on Saturday. Marinelli suffered a shoulder injury in the loss at UCLA. The status of fullback Owen Marecic, who suffered a high ankle sprain against Washington State, is still uncertain. X-rays came back negative, though, and Marecic said that he feels well.


"It's getting by the minute," said Marecic, who grew up less than two hours away from Eugene and will have family and friends at the game. "It'd be pretty disappointing [to miss the Oregon game]. That's why I'm working on getting back out there."


If Marecic does happen to miss Saturday's game, the Cardinal is more than ready to call on senior Josh Catron.


"Josh will be fine," Harbaugh said. "He's a veteran guy who we have a lot of trust in. I think he's one of only a few players on our roster who hasn't missed a practice since I've been here as head coach."


"Josh stepped up big last week," Pritchard said. "We just have guys that step in and fill roles."


Much of Tuesday's press conference focused on the Cardinal running game, which will face its toughest test in awhile. Gerhart, who is approaching the 1,000-yard mark and has a reasonable shot of breaking the school's season record, said he is not too surprised about the success he has had this year.


"I definitely thought I could do it. The game seemed like it was slowing down," Gerhart said of his limited action last year, before he suffered a season-ending injury against San Jose State. "I was just motivated to get back."


"It's something we take great pride in," Fletcher said. "We've finally put this run game together. Getting Toby a thousand yards would just be huge."


And lest we forget, Saturday's game has overarching implications for a Cardinal program that hasn't been to a bowl game in seven years. Stanford technically controls its bowl-game destiny with three games left in the year, but then again, it's going to be significant underdogs in each contest. Either way, the team seems to be up for the challenge.


"We're in complete control of our destiny and that's a great place to be," Snyder said. "We're just gonna focus on ourselves and not the other team."


In particular, the laid-back Pritchard relishes the chance to do some damage to the conference's upper echelon, while hopefully reaching magical win number six.


"I like playing as the underdog," he said. "Just go play. There's no pressure. It's not a must-win. The pressure's on them."

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