Focus Back on Football as Sun Bowl Showdown With Oklahoma Draws Near

Dec. 28, 2009

Photo Galleries from the Brut Sun Bowl:
From the El Paso Times (Mark Lambrie):
Arriving in El Paso | Touring the Town Galleries:
First Two Days (Brian Kanof) |

EL PASO, Texas-- From a hospitality standpoint, there aren’t too many bowls out there that do it up any better than the Sun Bowl. Since arriving in El Paso on Sunday, Stanford players and staff have been overwhelmed by the generosity of the Sun Bowl staff and have experienced the kindness and warmth of the people of El Paso seemingly at every turn.

Between the gift giving and all of the other festivities that surrounds a bowl game, it’s easy to see how some teams can lose focus at the task at hand which is the game itself.

“Everything here has been better than advertised,” said Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh at today’s Sun Bowl press conference. “The experience from the moment we stepped off the plane on Saturday has been outstanding. You can’t ask for anything more from a hospitality standpoint.

“But now it’s game week and we are in full preparation mode for Oklahoma right now.”

Stanford’s two workouts since arriving in El Paso have been crisp, physical and business-like, as the Cardinal look to regain its game edge and focus after being idled since Nov. 28. The team even ended today’s workout with a 10-play scrimmage.

The task at hand on Thursday against an Oklahoma team that was ranked as a high as third in the preseason polls presents as big of a challenge as Stanford has faced all season, according to Harbaugh.

“Oklahoma is as solid as a team we have played all season,” said Harbaugh. “It’s apparent we aren’t going to be able to out scheme them. We are without a doubt going to have to play our best game of the season to be successful.

“We are going to have to play a very physical game and rise up to their talent level. I don’t anticipate we will be intimidated in anyway.”

One of the most anticipated match ups of the bowl season pits Stanford’s 11th-ranked rushing offense, which averages 224.3 yards a game against Oklahoma’s stout rushing defense that allows just 88.6 yards per game on the ground, which ranks seventh in the nation.

“There are a lot of dynamics at work in this game, but that’s one that certainly stands out and will present a major challenge for us,” said Harbaugh. “They get s many hats to the ball as possible and their first two to three steps into the gaps are really explosive.”

With Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck sidelined with injury, the focus of attention falls even more mightily on consensus All-American and Heisman Trophy runner-up Toby Gerhart, who enters the game ranked second nationally in rushing with a 144.7 per game average.

Gerhart has met virtually every challenge that has come his way this season and is accustomed to garnering most of the attention from opponent’s defenses.

“Toby’s numbers speak for themselves,” said Harbaugh. “No one enjoys a challenge more than Toby Gerhart.”

Harbaugh gave a full vote of confidence to senior quarterback Tavita Pritchard, who is expected to start Thursday’s game in place of the injured Luck.

“Tavita has full command of this offense and he has been on the center stage before. We don’t expect any drop off.”

Harbaugh still has not ruled Luck out of Thursday’s game. The redshirt freshman was expected to have the pins removed from his right index finger today in El Paso and his availability for Thursday’s game will likely be a game time decision.

Cardinal Clips
Approximately 20 Stanford players visited a nearby children’s hospital following practice today…David Green, Terrence Stephens, Josh Catron joined Oklahoma players in a team talent contest on Saturday night following a joint team dinner held at Sunland Park…Stanford players toured the Luchessi Boot Factory following practice on Sunday…Stanford and Oklahoma will face off in a bowling contest tonight…four inches of snow is expected to fall in El Paso on Tuesday, which will make for challenging practice conditions at the Socorro Athletic Complex…”Awesome—just like home,” said Boston-native Chris Marinelli when informed of Tuesday’s expected wintery conditions.

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