In just nine games, Andrew Luck has already established himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the Pac-10. Other QBs came in with more hype (Matt Barkley), others compile better stats (Nick Foles), while others are more athletic overall (Jake Locker). But there is no better pure passer in the league right now than Andrew Luck.
This week, however, I'll be thinking a bit about Stanford's other quarterback. Senior Tavita Pritchard will take the field with the Card as they return to the Los Angeles Coliseum on Saturday. The last time he walked into that building, he was an unknown sophomore quarterback with three collegiate passes and zero collegiate starts to his name. Pritchard walked out of the Coliseum that night as a permanent part of Stanford lore.
The bullet to Richard Sherman on fourth-and-20 and the game-winning rainbow to Mark Bradford will be connected to Tavita Pritchard forever. At the time, I joked that Pritchard will never have to buy his own meal in Palo Alto again. That still may very well hold true. I'm pretty sure that years from now, when Pritchard comes back to Stanford for reunions, he will hold court no matter where he is.
Given this week's opponent for Stanford and the recent developments for both teams, many will spend this week thinking back to October 6, 2007. I'd imagine that while he's at the Coliseum, Pritchard might, even if only for a split second, allow himself to drift back to that afternoon for a brief moment or two.
Pritchard used that afternoon to unseat incumbent QB T.C. Ostrander, whose seizure the Sunday before the U$C game had rushed Tavita into the starter's role in the first place. But Pritchard was more mobile than Ostrander, and he threw a more consistently accurate deep ball. Above all, the offense seemed to respond a little better when Pritchard was taking the snaps.
Tavita wound up starting the next six games. A concussion on a brutal hit knocked him out of the Notre Dame game and out of the starter's role for Big Game the next week, but Pritchard still threw a touchdown pass against cal.
Still, it has to be hard on your career when your legacy is largely set in stone after your very first substantial appearance. For Pritchard, an opening act like that would have been tough—if not impossible—to top, especially with the team that surrounded him at that time.
True enough, even before the 2008 season began, we started hearing whispers about the new true freshman from Houston named Luck. Some of those whispers got louder as Pritchard struggled at times during the season (though I think some of the situational rotations with Jason Forcier and Alex Loukas stunted his rhythm a bit, especially earlier in the season). Consistency was a problem for Pritchard and Stanford as a whole, and the Cardinal finished a disappointing 5-7.
So in some ways, the writing may have already been on the wall heading into this year's Spring Game. I thought Pritchard looked good in that exhibition, and although he didn't have quite as much help around him, he still made good decisions and good throws. Pritchard played about a B/B+ game that night, I thought.
Trouble for him was that Andrew Luck played an A game. The rumors about what the young kid from Houston could do were true. For the first time it was laid out there for all the Cardinalmaniacs who could be there that Monday evening to see.
So, as much as Pritchard had done for the Cardinal as the starting QB, no one was surprised when Harbaugh named Luck the starter in mid-August. Just as Pritchard himself had done two years before, Luck had made the most of an opportunity, brought improvements to the position that weren't quite there before, and seized command of the job.
It's no secret that Luck is the better overall QB, and that he can take Stanford to places that Pritchard can't. After watching this season progress as it has, Pritchard himself probably realizes this too, I'm sure. I'm also sure that it doesn't make spending his senior season on the sidelines wearing a headset any easier for him.
So as Pritchard jogs onto the field on Saturday at the Coliseum, a memory or two of his last visit may pop into his head. That day, he played a starring role in the Greatest Upset Ever (according to the T-shirts). He also led Stanford to the win that gave the Jim Harbaugh Era an official starting point, tangible proof that competing with and beating the Pac-10's big boys wasn't so far away.
Luck, Toby Gerhart, and many of this year's starters will rightfully get credit for helping build Stanford into a potential long-term Pac-10 contender. But Tavita Pritchard unquestionably helped lay the foundation for the program's current success. That foundation is Pritchard's legacy. And it all started on that very same Coliseum field two years ago.
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RANDOM PAC-10 THOUGHTS
I was very happy to be wrong about Stanford's chances in last week's game. Big win for the Cardinal. Big, big win. It must have been magic to be there. That said, 6-3 had best not become 6-6. And nothing would make me happier than seeing Stanford begin the fourth quarter of its season by going upside U$C's head New Mexico women's soccer's Elizabeth Lambert-style…
Everyone knows about the big plays that swung the game in Stanford's favor early on, but to me, there were three hidden first-quarter plays that helped set the tone:
1. Knowing Stanford's weakness is defending speed on the perimeter, and knowing Stanford would also be bracing itself for an option run by either QB Jeremiah Masoli or RB LaMichael James, Oregon smartly called a bubble screen on its very first play from scrimmage. But CB Richard Sherman responded with a sure open-field tackle for no gain on Oregon's Jeff Maehl. The Ducks went three-and-out on its opening possession, giving Stanford's defense a critical early stop.
2. Stanford's third possession, and the Cardinal ahead 10-7 after an easy Oregon touchdown. On third-and-six from his own 24, Luck threw a high pass that skipped off of Ryan Whalen's fingertips. But instead of a drive-killing incompletion, Oregon CB Javes Lewis got called for pass interference, as he briefly (and barely) contacted Whalen just as the ball left Luck's hand. For Oregon, a ticky-tack call. For Stanford, first down. But, seven plays later…
3. …Stanford faced third-and-10 from the Oregon 16. The previous play, Konrad Reuland had dropped a wide-open touchdown, and when Luck handed to Gerhart on a draw, it seemed the Card were just settling for a field goal. Instead, Toby fought out of the backfield, dragged two Ducks with him and lunged forward for an 11-yard gain. First-and-goal, Stanford.
Two plays later, Stanford had a 17-7 first-quarter lead, and Oregon was in comeback mode from that point on. The role those three plays had in setting up that entire game can't be overlooked…
Something else that I think is being overlooked: Andrew Luck's toughness. He took some wicked, wicked shots, especially early. And those hits seemed to have zero effect on his accuracy and decision-making as that game progressed…
Quote of The Week, from Toby Gerhart, who joined Mel Kiper on the ESPN Radio Network after the game on Saturday: "Three years ago, we were the worst thing on campus. People hated us. Now we're a football school again"…
It's tough to win games when your receivers drop the ball seven times. Oregon sure did themselves no favors when it matted most…
U$C as 10-point favorites? Really? The way both teams are playing right now, the only way the Trojans beat Stanford by ten points is if they get a garbage touchdown late in the game or something…
Watching Jahvid Best get wheeled out of Memorial Stadium with a sheet draped over his body and an oxygen mask covering his face was the most frightening thing I've seen in a Pac-10 game since Jake Locker was ambulanced out of Reser Stadium in 2007. I trust that Jeff Tedford and the Golden Bears' medical staff will make the right decision when it concerns Best's return…
If Andrew Luck is the best QB in the Pac-10, I don't think Sean Canfield is that far behind…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… off the top of my head, I don't know who Cincinnati head coach Brian Kelly's agent is. But I'd expect that person to be receiving a lot of phone calls from the 574 area code quite soon, if not already…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… how in the hell did Kansas State get control of the Big 12 North?
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… there may be no worse feeling in the NFL than when you discover that your opponents have finally figured you out, and that all of your grand schemes may have finally been solved. The Denver Broncos and the Miami Dolphins' Wildcat offense might be experiencing this right now…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… the best NFL pregame show ever had only three or four hosts (Brent Musburger, Irv Cross, Phyllis George/Jayne Kennedy, and Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder). The best NFL postgame highlight show ever had only two core guys (Chris Berman and Tom Jackson). It's really beyond me why the TV networks feel the need to staff their shows with 37 different talking heads who all say absolutely nothing…
Not a Pac-10 thought, but… whoever decided to revive Taco-flavored Doritos should be given a raise. Immediately…
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CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX
Agree with this Corner? Disagree? Got something else on your mind? Drop me a line at my Scout.com inbox (username: troyc) or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The best e-mails will be answered in next week's Clardy's Corner Inbox!
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UCLA @ Washington State. Getting a funny feeling about this game. A very funny feeling. I like UCLA by 14, but it wouldn't surprise me if they're humming "Fight Fight Fight for Washington State" deep into the Palouse night.
Arizona @ cal. With Jahvid Best, I would like cal's chances in this one. But as we all know, Best isn't playing this week. Worse, cal's secondary is playing this week. Nick Foles dinks and dunks his way to another win. I like Arizona by 11.
Arizona State @ Oregon. When you're playing against that Oregon offense, and when you're playing at Autzen Stadium, you must be a disciplined team if you want to have a chance to win. Since Dennis Erickson and disciplined football teams go together like Lindsay Lohan and dignity, that means I like Oregon by 19.
Last week: 4-0 (straight-up), 2-2 (ATS).
This year: 16-7 (straight-up), 13-10 (ATS).
Last year: 30-6 (straight-up), 24-12 (ATS).
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Troy Clardy hosts the Stanford Daily Update, airing every weekday at 7:30p on Cardinal Sports Network flagship radio station XTRA Sports 860 in San Francisco, and available in podcast form at gostanford.com.
Clardy's Corner appears Wednesdays on TheBootleg.com. You can also check him out online at TroyClardy.com.
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