In Their Words: Taking Down Troy Again?

As thrilling as last year's Stanford 24, USC 23 final was, the Card know it won't give them any points against this year's Trojan squad. And they also know they're facing one of the nation's best defenses -- points are going to be at a premium. Read on to hear from Jim Harbaugh, Tavita Pritchard, Alex Fletcher, Toby Gerhart (and hear his health update), Sione Fua and Bo McNally.

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 underdogs. 

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 looks." 

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 game. 

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 about." 

"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.


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