FOOTBALL: Stanford QB Pritchard struggles to keep job

As a junior in college, Tavita Pritchard hopes that his best day isn't already behind him - even though it was a very good day.

That day was Oct. 6, 2007, when the former Clover Park High School star burst onto the national football scene by leading Stanford past No. 2 Southern California.

It remains one of the greatest upsets in college football history, and Pritchard's story was all the greater because it came in his first college start.

So, how do you top that?

"I'm happy to be a part of that," Pritchard said by phone Wednesday. "But at the same time, I hope when I come back (to Stanford) in 15 years they'll be talking about the 2008 season or the 2009 season when we won the Pac-10 or something."

That remains an ambitious goal because Stanford was not able to build on the USC breakthrough.

The Cardinal ended the season with five losses in its next seven games. And Pritchard finished last season 10th in Pacific-10 Conference passing efficiency.

When Stanford visits Washington at 7 p.m. Saturday, the Cardinal will bring a 2-2 overall record and 1-1 in the Pacific-10 Conference.

And while Pritchard has held onto his starting job, coach Jim Harbaugh has limited his commitment to a one-week-at-a-time deal.

"He has been through a lot of competition going through training camp and even during the season," Harbaugh said. "But I'm very committed to Tavita. ... He's been the guy that's been predominately in there. But I just thought the handling of the pressure and the nature of the competition, he's been very good. I haven't seen any change in him in his demeanor or how he approaches the game."

Through four games, Pritchard's pass efficiency rating doesn't rank among the league's top 10. His average of 117 passing yards per game is ninth in the conference. His 53.6 completion percentage is an exact match of UW's Jake Locker. And like Locker, Pritchard is especially dangerous when on the move. He is the team's third-leading rusher.

In the season opener, Pritchard engineered an upset of Oregon State, and Saturday he brought the Cardinal from 10 points behind against San Jose State. In between were losses at Arizona State, which was ranked at the time; and at TCU, which is ranked now.

"We absolutely felt we could have won those," Pritchard said by phone Wednesday. "Then we got a good win against our Bay Area rival in San Jose State, and we feel like we're back on the right track. We feel like we still have a way to go, and we want to keep improving."

Stanford can move halfway to bowl eligibility with another win Saturday. And Pritchard admits anticipating the game for other reasons, too.

"All my family will be there," he said. "I have seven siblings, and my little brother (Tana) is the starting sophomore quarterback at Clover Park High School right there in Lakewood. They're all looking forward to coming, and I'm looking forward to coming back home. I'm telling my teammates I'm going back to God's country."

For most of his life, Pritchard didn't expect to leave. His father, David, played at Washington State, and his uncle is famed WSU quarterback Jack Thompson.

So Pritchard assumed he would become a Cougar. However, WSU scholarship commitments kept him out of Pullman. And after pondering other Pac-10 schools - including Washington - he chose Stanford, where fame awaited.

Extra points

Freshman defensive tackle Craig Noble practiced as a Husky for the first time Wednesday. Coach Tyrone Willingham said there has been no decision on whether to redshirt Noble, and that he could be in uniform Saturday. Noble, who attended Taft High in Los Angeles, had been delayed pending academic clearance. ... In other personnel news, Willingham announced that receiver Charles Hawkins has been granted a scholarship, that tailback Chris Polk underwent season-ending shoulder surgery Wednesday, and that injured freshman cornerback Anthony Gobern (shoulder) has left school by mutual decision and will re-enroll in January. ... Receiver Chancellor Young was spotted on crutches and with a brace on his left knee at practice Wednesday. The injury hadn't been publicly known earlier. ... Defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said no decision has been made on whether Joshua Gage or Matt Houston will start at outside linebacker Saturday, but that both will play.