Sports

Luck now focused on making plays vs. USC

Studious Stanford quarterback hopes his studies pay off this weekend

By Rick Eymer

Palo Alto Online Sports

Andrew Luck, better known as Stanford's starting quarterback, saved a touchdown with a body tackle on Oregon's Eddie Pleasant during the Cardinal's 52-31 setback to Oregon last Saturday. That the Ducks scored on the next play is irrelevant.

"All you need to see is the way he made that tackle at the three-yard line," Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh said. "I think he can faster than he can to make that play. He competes with the heart of a champion."

Luck critiqued the tackle as "F for form but it got the job done."

The redshirt sophomore was put into the position of stop gap defense because of Javes Lewis' bone-jarring helmet-to-helmet hit on receiver Chris Owusu, who lost the ball because he was rendered unconscious by the blow.

Pleasant alertly grabbed the loose ball and took off the other way. Luck was the only Stanford player with any chance of catching him. He threw his body at Lewis, pushing him out-of-bounds before the goal line. He may think poorly of his form, but there are plenty of free safeties who would take it in an instant.

It just goes to show that a "courageous competitor" is his own worst critic. Luck has turned that self-questioning into a major strength.

He's a student of the game and has many influences upon which he can rely. He also takes responsibility for his own actions, and, sometimes, for mistakes that are quite frankly not in his control.

The responsible part comes in the form of watching game tapes as he looks for ways to improve, things to avoid, or how he can maintain calm decision-making in the heat of the moment.

In other words, Luck does his homework. Not only does he study his opponents, he studies himself with a sharp, analytical mind zeroed in on the minute details.

"First of all I never watch tapes of the previous game more than one day later," he said. "I'm done with Oregon, but I do watch to figure out fundamental things I can work on. I take notes for the beginning of the practice week where I can fix little issues to techniques I'm using and go from there."

Luck has a chance to become the first Stanford quarterback to beat USC in consecutive seasons since Randy Fasani did it in 2000-01. The Trojans (1-1, 4-1) come to Stanford Stadium for a 5 p.m. kickoff Saturday against the 16th-ranked Cardinal (1-1, 4-1) and whoever wins has a better chance of remaining in the conference championship hunt this season.

Never mind the Trojans are ineligible for a postseason bowl game, this contest will still go a long way in determining where Stanford will wind up in the postseason.

Luck and USC sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley are also the top two in efficiency rating in the conference, with Barkley holding a slight edge, 163.8 to 157.5. Luck tops the Pac-10 in total offense.

The Trojans are the conference leader in total offense, averaging 548.5 yards a game, more than 100 yards better than Stanford's 440.0. The Cardinal, however, ranks No. 4 in the nation in scoring.

"They have a lot of athletes on defense," Luck said about USC. "(Lane Kiffin) invented a defense. He's definitely a legend. You can't make any mistakes against them or they will make you pay."

Harbaugh has been impressed with Barkley so far this season.

"He's gained experience and is a more polished, relaxed passer," Harbaugh said. "There's no question he's been very efficient. He's got all the tools."

The USC offense won't be nearly as confusing or dangerous as Oregon's offense. Still, the Trojans are productive and move the ball.

"USC is quite different," Stanford defensive end Thomas Keiser said. "Oregon is a very unique offense. USC has a lot of talented players overall. Their offensive line is very good and they seem to move especially well."

Stanford enters the game ranked higher than the Trojans for just the fifth time, and the first since 1986. The Cardinal has been in the rankings five straight weeks, its longest stay since the final nine weeks of the 2001 season.

The goal, of course, is for Stanford to be there again next week.

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