Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh knows a thing or two about hard-nosed football. (Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)
Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh knows a thing or two about hard-nosed football. (Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

Cougars, Cardinal ready to slug it out

STANFORD, Calif. – Jim Harbaugh is old school.

As in Bo Schembechler old school.

And why not? It was Schembechler who Harbaugh played for at Michigan as an old-school, hard-nosed quarterback in the mid-1980s.

And now, in one way at least, it’s Schembechler who Harbaugh coaches like at Stanford.

Harbaugh talks often about the Pac-10 as a “man’s league,” in which the toughest team wins. And that’s the type of team Schembechler always tried to produce, it’s the type Harbaugh played on at Michigan, and the type of team he puts on the field at Stanford.

It also works. Stanford was 8-5 last year, Harbaugh’s third at the academically proud institution. The Cardinal are 5-1 overall, 2-1 in the Pac-10 this year, ranked 12th in the nation and looking to move up after Saturday’s game vs. Washington State (1-6, 0-4), in which they are favored by 34.5 points.

“Watching film, they do a whole lot of one-on-ones, double teams, just trying to knock you around,” said WSU defensive tackle Bernard Wolfgramm. “They’re offensive line looks pretty good so far. They come off low and they’re physical.”

That offensive line, which WSU coach Paul Wulff calls the best in the Pac-10, sets the tone for the offense and for the Cardinal’s physical style.

But it’s a different Cougar team that will show up today (2 p.m. kickoff) at Stanford Stadium, different from the one who played here two years ago and lost 58-0, different from last year’s model that opened the season with a 37-13 loss to Stanford, and, heck, different from a month ago.

The Cougars have developed an identity as a hard-nosed group themselves, out-hitting Oregon and Arizona the past two weeks, though both ended as defeats by decent margins. Still, Wulff said, it’s a step.

“When you start moving forward, before you just jump from where we were at to wins,” Wulff said, “you’ve got to start closing the gaps on things.”

The intensity gap has closed quickly – and recently.

“What I see is a team that plays all out, all the time,” Harbaugh said. “They play every play hard. They’ve got guys who are just throwing their bodies around, which is very impressive.”

“They’re definitely more physical. You can’t play much more physical than they are playing.”

“He probably wasn’t (counting) his own team, apparently, in that comment,” Wulff said when Harbaugh’s words were relayed to him. “He’s got a real physical football team, a veteran football team.”

And one that will test WSU’s attitude.

“We’re trying to move ourselves as a program, what I believe in, is to be a tough, hard-nosed football team,” Wulff said. “We’re making strides, but we’re nowhere near where we can be.”

The only question for today is, are they getting closer to the Cardinal?

Harbaugh thinks so.

“You’ve probably heard a lot of people say it, (this) is a much improved team,” he said.

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