Andrew's 18th start will certainly go down as one of his most memorable performances. A last-minute comeback win. Against the hated U$C Trojans. In front of a record crowd at Stanford Stadium.
His final numbers from his 18th game are impressive enough to make the stats geeks happy (20-of-24 for 285 yards, three scores, and no picks), but the fact that he completed his final twelve passes and got better as the game went along makes us football geeks even happier.
Ironically, his most memorable individual play against U$C probably came while he was playing defense. After Trojan DB Shareece Wright picked up Stepfan Taylor's first fumble, he was promptly leveled by a lick from Luck that thundered through the stadium.
Now, I'm not necessarily going to go all gaga over that tackle like some people have. I haven't been playing it on YouTube again and again. In the grand scheme of things, if your quarterback has to be put into a position where he has to make a tackle, it is never a good thing. Besides, Andrew went after Oregon safety Eddie Pleasant pretty good after Pleasant returned Chris Owusu's fumble on that game's decisive play. No one went nuts after that one.
Then again, the arm, the brain, and the stats make Andrew a quarterback. That hit makes him a football player. There is a tremendous difference between the two, especially in the locker room.
Add it all together, and in 18 games, Andrew Luck has taken giant steps towards cementing himself as one of Stanford Football's great quarterbacks.
This isn't to try to compare Andrew to the Elways and the Plunketts of Stanford's past. I never saw the Elways and the Plunketts in a Cardinal uniform with my own eyes, so I can't do an honest evaluation there. Besides, comparisons like that are unfair to Andrew, and he has plenty of football left in a Stanford uniform. Hopefully.
Besides, if I had to compare Andrew to another great college quarterback, my choice would actually be Atlanta Falcons signalcaller Matt Ryan. Similar body type, similar mechanics, similar quarterbacking abilities. Andrew has the edge in mobility, though, and he is certainly more advanced than Ryan was at a similar stage in his career at Boston College.
I think back to more than 18 games ago, when I first saw Andrew at the 2009 Spring Game under the Monday night lights at Stanford Stadium. Although he seemed to be getting a bit more help from his teammates than Tavita Pritchard was, I thought he looked very impressive. I also wanted to withhold complete judgment until I saw him take snaps against a hostile opponent.
Two games later, I was convinced. I watched from the BB&T Field press box as Andrew put on a quarterbacking show in the first half against Wake Forest. He completed 16 of his 23 throws for 188 yards and two scores. Aside from an interception on a pass he rushed, he showed impeccable decision-making. He fired gorgeous out throws. He lobbed perfectly placed deep balls. Basically, he conducted surgery without a scalpel.
As the 2009 season continued, I kept waiting for Andrew to have a "learning curve" game. I remember in 1995 when Mark Butterfield finally got a shot to start, it still took him a couple of games to look comfortable… and he was a fifth-year senior. It reached a point where Butterfield had to remind himself not to make a stupid play every time he went under center.
It worked. Butterfield eventually became one of the Pac-10's best quarterbacks that season. Imagine what he could have done with 18 games as Stanford's starter.
But for Andrew, those learning curve games never happened. Yes, there were throws that he'd like to have back (and, in the Big Game, two throws that never should have been called in the first place). But Stanford did not lose a game last year because Luck's poor decisions put them in an early hole they could not dig out of.
Last year, Andrew's development seemed to be one of the secrets of the Pac-10, mostly because Toby rightfully took top billing. This year, Andrew is the unquestioned centerpiece of Stanford Football. In the NFL, a player like him would be nicknamed The Franchise. Since this is college football, we can call him The Program.
Meanwhile, the Cardinal are now playing on national TV almost every week, allowing more people to see what Stanford fans already knew last year. And the draft experts are already drooling over him, even though there is no guarantee that he will be a part of the 2011 NFL Draft. (There's also no guarantee at this point that there will be a 2011 NFL Draft, period… but that's a whole different subject). It's not hard to envision a scenario right now where NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell strides to the podium and announces, "with the first pick in the 2011 NFL Draft…the San Francisco 49ers select…Andrew Luck…quarterback…Stanford University…"
Still, in 18 games, Andrew Luck has not taken snaps in a bowl. Nor, as the Weenies will remind you, has he won a Big Game. Injury prevented one, while ill-timed playcalling caused the other. But while they may not have been his fault, those are still two items missing from his résumé.
Still, after 18 games, Andrew Luck's onesheet is already more distinguished than most Stanford quarterbacks. Which begs the big question: what will he achieve in his next 18 games?
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RANDOM PAC-9 THOUGHTS
ESPN3.com is a godsend. Didn't get back home from South Bend until the fourth quarter, and Stanford-U$C wasn't being shown in Pittsburgh. So, I caught the final eight minutes live on my laptop, then watched what I missed the next morning. Modern technology is a wonderful thing…
A thrilling finish? Sure. But this game should not have been that close. Stanford's offense stopped itself with turnovers. Take those away, and I don't think that game heads down to the wire…
A couple of weeks ago, the Stanford defense was scoring high in the tackling department. Since then, they've taken a step back. Granted, the level of competition has taken a step up, but it was a bit troubling to see the missed tackles racking up again vs. U$C…
Hitting, however, has not been a problem for the Stanford defense this year. Especially for Delano Howell. That guy has been bringing the wood all season…
Instead of calling them the defense, can we call them the Tree-fense?
And in case you were wondering, yes, I did predict that Stanford would beat U$C on the final play, and that the students would storm the field. And I uncannily made that prediction two years ago. Hey, even a broken clock is right twice a day...
Quick question to the 34 voters who put Ohio State atop their ballots in this week's AP poll: do you really believe that, if the Buckeyes met Oregon right now on a neutral site, that Ohio State would win? I don't…
It's been a while since we've had one, but our Quote of the Week comes courtesy Nike Brand President Charlie Denson, after the announcement that Nike will take over as the NFL's official gameday jersey maker in 2012: "We plan on changing the NFL jersey dramatically, just like we've done with the college programs." Folks, Nike makes Oregon's uniforms. Brace yourself…
Not a Pac-9 thought, but… if you haven't done it yet, carve out some time and read Sports Illustrated's first-hand account of an NFL agent who admits paying college football players. Not only does the article confirm some suspicions you may have had about how some agents operate, it also names names. Very interesting and thought-provoking piece…
Not a Pac-9 thought, but… number of reality shows their players have been involved in so far this year: three. Number of wins: two. It's not good to be the Cincinnati Bengals right now…
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CLARDY'S CORNER INBOX
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cal @ U$C. Normally, I would like cal's chances of getting the win here. But the way to beat this U$C defense is by throwing the ball. Unfortunately, in this case, that means putting the ball in Kevin Riley's hands. Yikes. I like U$C by 9.
Arizona @ Washington State. Don't look now, but the Cougars have actually been staying with teams much longer than usual. And in the Palouse, anything can happen. Does that mean I'm picking the Cougars here? No. God, no. I like Arizona by 22. Does that mean I'm ruling out something funky happening in this game? No. God, no.
Oregon State @ Washington. One Rodgers is better than none. One Rodgers is also better than any answer the Washington defense can put up. I like Oregon State by 10.
Last week: 2-2 (straight up), 1-3 (ATS).
This year: 7-3 (straight up), 4-6 (ATS).
Last year: 25-11 (straight-up), 19-16-1 (ATS).
Troy Clardy hosts the Stanford Daily Update, airing every weekday at 7:00pm on Cardinal Sports Network flagship radio station XTRA Sports 860 in San Francisco, and available in podcast form at gostanford.com. If you're in Pittsburgh, you can also hear him weekends on 93.7 The Fan.
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