The big, bad Trojans are coming to
town for revenge, and the Cardinal is doing its best to get ready for Saturday's
bout. Stanford junior Jack Salisbury sat in on Tuesday's press conference, where
Coach Harbaugh and Co. discussed their mindset going into this year's match-up
with USC—this time as mere 22-point, not 42-point
On facing USC's defense, which
most believe to be the best in the nation:
"They're dominating," Harbaugh said. ‘The
striking [statistic] is the scoring defense. They've been phenomenal. There
really aren't any weaknesses. They are good at all facets of football. We
understand that's a tremendous challenge."
"They're good. They're fast, strong,"
center Alex Fletcher said. "They're all prototypical size, great speed, great
strength. They swarm the football. You can't really find a weakness in their
defense. They've changed things up a bit [since last year]. Their team speed is
fast already and they're getting faster. They have more interesting
Toby Gerhart was respectful of the Trojan defense, but he certainly didn't sound sycophantic when asked about USC, which has given up only one touchdown in its last five games: "They're good. They've put up some crazy numbers these past few weeks. They're just a good, solid defense."
Gerhart, whose hamstring injury hampered
his production in the loss to Oregon, said that he feels fine and will be ready
to go this Saturday.
"It's doing well. It's coming along
really well. [There'll be] no problem Saturday."
Inevitably, talk of last year's
monumental game was a recurring theme during Tuesday's press conference. The
Stanford players and coaches have moved on from Oct. 6, 2007, but it's clear
that they still understand the meaning of that game and its implications going
into this one.
"This is a team that's gonna look for
payback," Fletcher said of the Trojans.
"That's a football game," Harbaugh said
when asked if he thought USC would come into Saturday's game fired up. "I expect
fire in their eyes, I expect fire in their eyes. That's the way football games
are. I'd expect nothing less from both sides."
"It's the ‘SC game," Tavita Pritchard
said. "I'm ready to put that game to rest. Hopefully they'll be talking about us
going to a bowl game this year [instead]."
Of all the players and coaches, Bo McNally was the most candid about last year's impact on this year's game.
"Last year was a huge win for our program," Bo McNally said. "It was a huge loss for them. They might not say they're thinking about last year but I'm sure they are. We're trying to protect our house so emotions are going to be way high, to say the least."
I've got to side with McNally on this
one. The old mantra: "We're going into this game like any other game," (which
defensive lineman Sione Fua did end up saying) only goes so far. This has to be
a game that both teams have been eyeing for a while. Stanford's victory was the
shot-heard-round college football in a season of shockers and surprises last
season. Both teams have been hearing about it for the past 13 months, and that's
got to weigh on them to at least some extent going into Saturday's
But back to the matter at hand. Emotion and context aside, the Cardinal is facing the best defense in the country. Stanford's run game has been consistent this whole season, but hasn't faced a run defense in even the same ballpark as the Trojans' yet. Harbaugh and his players know what they're up against. According to them, it's going to take discipline, grit, sticking to the game plan, and that one special ingredient—belief—to take on the towering Trojan defense.
"It's gonna take a very disciplined
offensive line," Fletcher said. "We need to sustain our blocks. It's gonna be a
lot of one-on-one match-ups. A lot of this game is on the offensive line and I
think we like it like that. I've seen all the film. [USC] is getting better and
better as the season goes."
"They present a lot of challenges,"
Harbaugh said. "We're putting in the game plan to beat USC. Understand, believe
in it, and get good practice in this week."
Allen Iverson certainly wouldn't fit on
this Stanford squad: Pritchard later echoed the thoughts of his coach, stressing
the importance of practice this week.
"What Coach Shaw has made a point of is worrying about what we do," Pritchard said. "That's been a big part of why we've been successful. [We're] studying what they do but not letting them dictate what we do… We had a great week of practice and we've got to replicate that. I'm excited for this week. I'm interested to see how [USC is] gonna respond to this game."
"[We have to] stick to our game plan,"
Gerhart said. "Stick to what's been working all year. It's gonna be exciting.
They're definitely gonna come out ready to go."
Pritchard's play will undoubtedly going a
long way towards determining whether the Cardinal can stun the Trojans two
years in a row. He and others talked about his and the team's progress since
that October night, a night marking his first career start.
"I'm more seasoned," Pritchard said.
"I've seen a lot more. I've seen a lot of different teams. We're a better team
than last year. We have an identity. It was a gritty team as well [last year],
but I think we have more of an identity now. We know what we're
"There's so many things in the course of
a ballgame he does that helps our team," Harbaugh said. "He's very confident,
very poised…He's thinking a lot less and just executing."
"His path hasn't been easy and he just
keeps coming back," Fletcher said. "He's a competitive guy. Tavita's a fighter
and he's a guy you love playing with."
With the sheer impact of USC's visit,
it's easy to forget that the Cardinal still needs one win of its last two games
to qualify for a bowl game. The cast at Tuesday's conference talked about where
this program is and where it's headed—regardless of the outcome of the final two
games. The consensus was that the team is on the brink of "kicking the door down
in the Pac-10," as Fletcher put it.
"We're heading where this program wants
to be," McNally said. "We're in a position to win every week. It's just a matter
of finishing those games and winning."
"I've been pleased with the way our team
has progressed," Harbaugh said. "There's no question that we're better than last
year. To make that next step we've got to win big games. We're at center stage
against USC and I know our guys are gonna compete, but it's our vision to win
these kinds of games."
"It's an exciting time to be a part of
the Stanford football program," Fletcher said. "When I committed to play here,
it was a place where you could get a great education."
If the program keeps up the progress, the Farm just might be a whole lot more than that for potential recruits.