Former NFL quarterback Jim Harbaugh has almost concluded his second year in Palo Alto, earning rave reviews from alumni, fans and college football experts alike. Following an embarrassing 1-11 2006 season under Walt Harris, Harbaugh has turned things around for the Cardinal in very short time. Stanford was one of the most improved teams in the Pac-10 conference last year, a season which included the upset of #2 USC in the Coliseum and beating archrival Cal for the first time in five years.
Harbaugh has injected the Cardinal with tremendous energy and enthusiasm and has the folks on the Farm abuzz. Currently at 5-5 and 4-3 in conference, Stanford needs just one more victory to become bowl eligible, a feat few considered possible just two seasons ago.
Harbaugh came to Stanford from the University of San Diego, where he guided the Toreros to an impressive three-year overall record of 29-6 (.829), including back-to-back 11-1 seasons that netted a pair of Division 1-AA Mid Major national titles in 2005 and 2006.
As a player, Harbaugh was affectionately known as "Captain Comeback" in Indianapolis, where he guided the lowly Colts to the 1995 AFC Championship Game and earned AFC Offensive Player of the Year honors. He finished that season runner-up in league MVP voting and was the NFL's top rated passer. The Indy front office ordered his name placed in the Colts Ring of Honor as one of the top players in franchise history in 2005.
Harbaugh hails from a family of respected coaches. In addition to his father, Jack, who manned the sidelines for 41 years at Western Kentucky, his brother John was recently named head coach of the Baltimore Ravens after spending 10 years in the Philadelphia Eagles organization. And his brother-in-law is Tom Crean, better known as the newest head basketball coach at Indiana University.
The Cardinal utilize two quarterbacks, juniors Tavita Pritchard and Alex Loukas. Pritchard is the starter and will log most of the reps come Saturday afternoon. He is a quality, yet unspectacular quarterback who can maneuver outside the pocket. While he doesn't amaze you with his arm and throws a few too many interceptions, he manages a game well and executes the little things it takes to win. He has completed 59.5% of his passes this season for 1,216 yards with nine touchdowns and as many interceptions.
When Loukas is in the game, expect run, even out of shotgun formation. He is surprisingly mobile for his size (6'4", 223 lbs) and was a heralded prep quarterback from just outside of Chicago. He is just 4-13 throwing the ball in eight games he's appeared in this season.
The Cardinal boast one of the best ground games in the conference via a dual-threat rushing attack. Led by junior Toby Gerhart and senior Anthony Kimble, Stanford averages 207 yards per game on the ground, which is second in the Pac-10 and 17th nationally. Of their 33 touchdowns as a team, 23 have come on the ground. They are 5-1 this season when their RBs go over 200 yards combined.
Gerhart is a monster. He is averaging 5.5 yards per carry this season and has scored 13 touchdowns. He has played with nagging injuries all year and saw minimal action last week against Oregon due to a strained groin muscle, but he plans on playing this week. He is big (6'1", 228 lbs), strong, and very tough to bring down with just one defender. He can catch the ball out of the backfield and possesses great vision in the open field. He has gained 961 yards this season and needs just 68 yards against the Trojans to become Stanford's first 1,000-yard rusher since "Touchdown" Tommy Vardell in 1991. Gerhart has six 100-yard games this season and ranks fourth in the Pac-10 averaging 93 yards per game. A talented two-sport star, he also plays for Stanford's baseball team in the spring.
Kimble compliments Gerhart nicely. He is a fifth-year senior who has finished as Stanford's top rusher each of the last two seasons. At 6'1", 210 pounds, he sometimes runs through holes a bit high, which is something to watch for against USC's hard-hitting defenders. He ran for 106 yards last week in Gerhart's place, marking his third 100-yard game of the season. He is currently eighth all-time on Stanford's career rushing list and has tallied 678 yards this season, averaging 6.2 per carry, to go along with five touchdowns.
Former walk-on Ryan Whalen (6'2", 200 lbs) is Stanford's best receiver. He has caught 34 passes on the year for 403 yards and one touchdown. Harbaugh likes to run Whalen over the middle where Pritchard can find him sitting in zones for first down completions.
Doug Baldwin starts at the opposite end where he has caught 18 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns. The sophomore has been apart of six plays this season that have gone for 35 yards or more, so consider him their big play threat. Baldwin is also the team's punt returner.
Team captain Alex Fletcher is the heart and sole of Stanford. Manning the center position, he is a four-year starter that has anchored the O-Line through the good and the bad. He has been listed on the Outland, Rimington and Lombardi Watch Lists and is Stanford's most experienced offensive player with 32 starts under his belt. He is 6'3", 295 pounds and moves very well for a man his size. Not much gets through him. Senior Ben Muth (6'6", 297 lbs) gets the start at LT, while two sophomores, Chase Beeler and Andrew Phillips comprise the guards. 6'7" junior Chris Marinelli starts at RT.
Stanford runs a very traditional 4-3 defense, but are currently ranked as just the eighth-best D in the conference. Their pass defense has been flat out bad. In fact, they are 113th nationally in total pass defense, giving up an average of 248 yards in the air per game. Ironically, they have 30 sacks on the season, an average of just over three per game, good for a first-place tie in the conference and ninth in the nation.
6'6", 270-pound fifth-year senior defensive end Pannel Egboh is the leader of the defensive line for the Cardinal. He possesses size, athleticism, quickness and experience that make him a very good pass-rusher. He has 25 tackles, 3.5 TFL and 1.5 sacks and a fumble recovery on the season. Hard working former tight-end Erik Lorig gets the start at the opposite DE post, where he has made 33 tackles, 6 TFL and three sacks. The two interior D-Linemen are Matt Masifilo, just a redshirt freshman, and senior Ekom Udofia.
Stanford likes to consider their linebackers as being a strength of their defense. Led by Pat Maynor on the weak side, these LBs may be sure tacklers but lack some for speed. Maynor is the team's leading tackler with 64 and four sacks and has 8.5 TFL. He is a fifth-year senior who is a Butkus Award candidate and has logged 10 sacks in his last 20 games. Junior Clinton Snyder is a strong side backer who has 10 career forced fumbles. He was an Honorable Mention All-Conference player last year and currently has three sacks to go along with 50 tackles during the 2008 season. Getting the start in the middle of the defense is talented sophomore Chike Amajoyi. Recruited to the Farm as a running back, Amajoyi has needed little time to adjust to his new position. He was named to the All Pac-10 Freshman team last year and has 39 tackles this season.
Strong safety Bo McNally is the unquestioned leader of the Stanford defense and is one of the Pac-10's best safeties. He is a very controlled player who has a knack for making big plays. He is the Pac-10's reigning tackle leader, a pre-season Lott Trophy candidate, and is an impact player. The team leader with three interceptions, he also has 61 tackles, a sack, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble on the season. It will be easy to spot #22 on flying all over the field on Saturday afternoon.
The Cardinal corners are two experienced players, Kris Evans and Wopamo Osaisai. Never a good sign for a team, these two corners are currently second and third on the team in tackles. Evans has two interceptions on the season. Osaisai is a fifth-year starter and was considered the team's most improved player at the conclusion of spring ball. Sophomore Sean Wiser (Oaks Christian HS) is the starting free safety who was current Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen's favorite wide receiver in high school.
Aaron Zagory is the Stanford kicker. He has converted an impressive 12-14 field goals this season, the longest being a 52-yarder. He is 32-33 on PATs. David Green is the punter and averages just over 40 yards per. Zagory handles kickoffs and the kick return man is one of a three player rotation consisting of Jeremy Stewart, Chris Owusu, and Delano Howell, none of which have made a tremendous impact.
USC is a 23-point road favorite on the Farm…Gerhart has recently been named "Probable" for the game…