LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 29: Quarterback Andrew Luck #12 of the Stanford Cardinal throws a pass as he scrambles against the USC Trojans at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on October 29, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
There it was, the moment it could've all come crashing down for the Stanford Cardinal. Andrew Luck had his team in position, poised for the epic game-winning drive. But USC cornerback Nickell Robey gambled for the ball and for glory. Luck's receiver slipped and Robey jumped the route, taking it the other way to the end zone.
The USC Trojans were poised to spoil everything for Stanford. Luck wouldn't let it happen.
Right back down the field came the signal-caller, hitting four Cardinal receivers on that final fourth quarter drive and scrambling for another first down to eventually tie things up. Nothing sexy, nothing stunning, just methodical and workmanlike. That was how most of the game went for Luck, who outside of a pretty pass on a Wildcat reverse to Ty Montgomery didn't really jump out from the page at you.
Instead of compiling stats early and often, most of Luck's damage came via his repsonses to adversity. Luck started with his usual first quarter opening score with a perfect run-pass balance, but after that he had to tear down walls to get Stanford moving right. Down ten after being sacked on a third quarter drive, Luck directed a masterful drive, then used the Wildcat reverse pass to set up Luck's on TD run. It was the last big resume-building piece that was missing from a resume full of masterful bullet points. Luck found Griff Whalen over and over, and balanced it to all his options by spreading it around to ten receivers. Talk about zen in sports!
Luck was happy even to take a back seat to his running backs, who pounded in three of the four final touchdowns. Luck's biggest pass down the stretch was a simple fade route mismatch to 6'8" tight end Levine Toilolo on the outside that he dropped right into him to tie things up.
David Shaw was happy to keep things simple down the stretch, not going to anything fancy. Instead they relied on their quick hitting plays to draw Trojan defenders outside before going back to the power run plays to overwhelm them within. Stanford kept it simple down the stretch, waited for USC to slip up (which they did), and on their way to 8-0 they went. It's about as comfortable a triple OT win as you can expect.
While Stanford bore the brunt of an instant classic, more teams started tumbling in less than classic fashion. Kansas State and Michigan State both fell in practical laughers, and Clemson finally pulled their usual Clemson shenanigans. These three contenders from three big conferences fall off, leaving only the LSU/Alabama winner and Oklahoma State likely to stay in front of them through this week, giving them a legitimate shot to go all the way.
And the road is there. Stanford has one last road game in Corvallis before coming home for the final critical march. The Oregon Ducks remain the last true test on their list before rival matchups with average Cal and Notre Dame squads. The path is starting to clear for the Cardinal to find their way to New Orleans, and it's not just Luck that's getting them there.
Not that it hurts having him.