Stanford football opener a smash hit


By Rick Eymer

Palo Alto Online Sports

Redshirt freshman Brett Nottingham may not push Andrew Luck for the starting job any time soon, but thanks to a late touchdown pass he'll rank significantly higher than the Heisman Trophy candidate in passing efficiency following the season opener.

Luck threw two touchdowns and ran for another score, leading seventh-ranked Stanford past visiting San Jose State, 57-3, Saturday. The Cardinal has won nine straight dating to last year's Oregon contest, its longest streak since opening the 1951 season with nine straight wins.

Last year's Heisman Trophy runner-up completed 17 of 26 passes for 171 yards and deftly left the offense on seven scoring drives before turning the reigns over to Nottingham, and later Robbie Picazo, in the fourth quarter.

Luck's rating should be in the vicinity of 146.01 (he finished last year at 170.16, third in the nation) while Nottingham's efficency will look something like 458.20. The NCAA passer rating has an upper limit of 1,261.6 and the NCAA single-season record is 186.0, held by Hawaii's Colt Brennan in 2006.

Those numbers likely won't last for either signal caller. Luck will finish more in the 170-180 range, while Nottingham will dip significantly with each incomplete pass. Still, the young quarterback will certainly get a chance to shine once Luck enters the NFL.

For this season, at least, Luck draws the attention, not just for his statistical prowess but for his seemingly natural ability to play quarterback. He just may have the best feet, the best vision, the best field awareness and the best instincts of any college quarterback in the land.

Chris Owusu and six other different receivers can attest to that as the Cardinal recorded its widest margin of victory in the all-time series between the two South Bay schools.

"It was fun to get back out there on the field," Owusu said. "It was fun to get the ball and to come out the way we did."

Owusu caught seven passes for 76 yards, Stepfan Taylor ran for 61 yards and two touchdowns and Stanford extended its winning streak over the Spartans to four games, dating to 2006, and handed David Shaw a victory in his first game as a head football coach.

"This was our first victory as a team," said Shaw, who made his father, retired college and NFL coach Willie Shaw, an honorary captain for the game. "It didn't come perfectly but it's a stepping stone."

Taylor scored on runs of three yards and one-yard in the third quarter to put the Cardinal ahead 43-3. Luck and the rest of the starters were lifted, and even the back-ups kept piling up points.

"I think a lot of it was our defense and special teams putting us in a position where you can't mess up," said Luck, who presented Shaw the game ball with his teammates. "I definitely don't think we're satisfied on offense."

After driving the ball inches short of the goal line in the first quarter, Luck scrambled to his right, paused and sprinted to the corner. He launched his body toward the sideline and reached the ball out to swipe the pylon, giving Stanford a 10-0 lead on his first touchdown of the season.

"He gets to dive head first when there's a touchdown involved," Shaw said. "Besides that, he's supposed to slide. He's under strict directives to slide."

Even though he said otherwise, sliding is not in Luck's nature. He's separated a defensive back from the ball with a vicious tackle, knocked over a linebacker en route to a touchdown run, and thrown his body at a guy to knock him out of bound and save a touchdown among other things.

Luck has thrown 47 touchdown passes, fourth on the Stanford all-time list and five behind the Cardinal lone Heisman Trophy winner Jim Plunkett. He also has 6,084 passing yards, sixth all-time.

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