Sports

Luck's last college game finally comes to pass

By Rick Eymer

Palo Alto Online Sports

We've seen Andrew Luck do some amazing things on the football field, rallying Stanford to victories, raising expectations higher than they've ever been before and having the program mentioned in the same breath as LSU, Alabama and national championship for the first time ever.

We've seen Luck climb the rungs of the Stanford record book and put himself among the all-time greats in only three seasons. Luck, however, is much more than numbers, as we've also seen.

And now, we're going to see Luck for the final time. The winningest quarterback in Cardinal history will take the field for the last time in college on Monday night as fourth-ranked Stanford (11-1) meets third-ranked Oklahoma State (11-1) in the 41st edition of the Fiesta Bowl.

The kickoff, at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., is set for 5:30 p.m. It's the last kickoff of the six major bowl games being played the same day, immediately following the Rose Bowl showdown between Pac-12 champion Oregon and Big 10 champion Wisconsin.

Luck's legacy will survive no matter the outcome. His remarkable 31-6 record as a starter takes care of that, along with consecutive runner-up finishes in Heisman Trophy voting and all the other accolades showered upon him from every corner of the college and professional football world.

Stanford is currently favored over the Cowboys by 3 1/2 points in the first meeting between the two teams, although the schools have suddenly found their teams meeting in other sports this year. Stanford prevailed in men's basketball, in the NIT Season Tip-Off, and women's soccer, in the NCAA tournament.

Luck has not engaged in much discussion of his future, which seems to be all but assured as the next No. 1 overall pick in the NFL. He prefers to remain firmly planted in the moment, allowing his mind to wander only when there is nothing else at

stake.

"I have tried not to reflect too much about the season with the game coming up," Luck said this week. "I'm sure, after the Fiesta Bowl, I will be able to sit down and a thousand memories will flood in."

For Luck, it seems, there's always something to solve, an architectural problem if not a defense to dissect. He's become a little more comfortable talking to a large gathering than the day, in the stands at Palo Alto High School in August of 2009, when he was made available to the media for the first time after Jim Harbaugh announced at Luck had won the starting quarterback job.

If Luck has ever said a mean thing about anybody, it has never been made public and that's one of his strengths. His aw-shucks, boy-next-door approach works. He was asked what wisdom his father, former NFL quarterback Oliver Luck, imparted over the years.

"Just to respect people," he said. "Simple things like that. Just to respect people."

Does he still need to show NFL scouts anything else in Monday's game?

"It is important I play a good game," Luck said. "I think I have a good body of work. And obviously I want to be successful in this game. But I approach it as trying to win, more than impress anybody."

Luck won't have speedster receiver Chris Owusu as part of his arsenal, but he will have a full complement of tight ends as Zach Ertz returns from an injury to join Levine Toilolo and Coby Fleener to form a trio of productive tight ends, a rarity in college football these days. He'll also have plenty of running backs, with Stepfan Taylor recording his second straight 1,000-yard season. Jeremy Stewart, Tyler Gaffney, Anthony Wilkerson and fullback Ryan Hewitt form a strong support system.

"Hopefully it will mean a lot with Zach, Coby and Levine on the field," Luck said. "It presents interesting match-up problems. You can bring them down tight or spread them all out. Hopefully we will take advantage of those three guys on the field."

Griff Whalen is Stanford's top receiving threat but 18 Cardinal players (including Luck) have caught at least one pass.

Perhaps as valuable as Luck is his offensive line that includes All-Americans David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin, along with Cameron Fleming, Tyler Mabry, the top lineman off the bench, David Yankey and center Sam Schwartzstein.

"They are one of the more interesting units on the football team," Luck said. "They don't want credit. They come to work and hang out with each other. They don't talk to anybody else during practice."

How does Oklahoma State view Stanford?

"They have a powerful offense, they have really good offensive linemen," Cowboys' defensive end Jamie Blatnick said. "It's a different mindset you have to go into the game with. You have to be a bit more aggressive with it. You have to really get after them. You can't stay in scheme for too long, you just have to get out there and play. It's probably going to come down to the turnover battle. When you have two great teams like this, keeping one team's offense off the field could be crucial."

Martin was similarly impressed with Oklahoma State.

"They are very talented up front, very athletic," he said. "They have a lot of very fast linebackers and good pass rushers. They present some unique challenges and I would say this is the best team that we've faced so far."

The Cowboys' offense likes to play faster than a speeding bullet and is just as potent as Oregon. Most observers are referring to the game as a potential shootout and both quarterbacks, Luck and OSU's Brandon Weeden, are capable of big plays.

"Every time you run a play, you want to score a touchdown," Luck said. "I think our defense likes getting a rest. Any time you can put long drives together, that's great."

Stanford's defense will be without Shayne Skov, but still has been able to produce with Jarek Lancaster and A.J. Tarpley taking over Skov in the middle and Trent Murphy and Chase Thomas on the outside.

Lancaster is Stanford's leading tackler with 63, and Tarpley is third with 53. Safety Mic hael Thomas, Chase Thomas and corner Johnson Bademosi fill out the top five. Strong safety Delano Howell, who missed three games with an injury, is sixth.

"Not making mistakes, protecting the football," Luck said. "Executing, that's the name of the game."

Luck has done that better than any Stanford quarterback in the 116 years the school has played football. Before he arrived, the program's last double-digit win season came in 1992 and no Stanford team had ever won more than 10 games.

Luck helped the Cardinal change its mindset on sport.

"Guys realized we can be successful," he said. "It was good to go to a bowl game (in 2009) and get that experience for a lot of guys and then realize we've got to double our efforts if we want to go to a better bowl."

And the efforts have been tangible.

"It falls on the guys who have graduated and maybe didn't get to go to an Orange Bowl, who sort of laid the foundation," he said. "You get a little more satisfaction out of being a part of a team that has turned itself around than maybe coming to a place where you have won 15 straight years and had 10-win seasons."

Satisfaction and success. That's what we've seen Andrew Luck bring to Stanford football. And, there is one final opportunity to enjoy both once again before Luck puts on a uniform of an NFL team that will be lucky to get him.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Cal Morton
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 30, 2011 at 1:01 pm

Nice piece on Andrew, I never tire of reading about this young man. Though I think it would have been equally fitting to close by saying, "Expectations and success..."
cheers


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