CORVALLIS, OR - NOVEMBER 5: Quarterback Andrew Luck #12 of the Stanford Cardinal looks to pass against the Oregon State Beavers in the first quarter on November 5, 2011 at Reser Stadium in Corvallis, Oregon. (Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer/Getty Images)
Tonight is what Andrew Luck came back for. (Well, either that or he really wants that unaccredited architecture degree, and loves the anonymity of Palo Alto or something. BUT THIS MAKES BETTER COPY.)
Luck has proven that he can pretty much overwhelm any overmatched opponent with this Stanford offense. He's able to check down and go to the running play when defenses target toward the pass, he finds the holes in the various coverage schemes defenses flash against him, he knows when he needs to run when his receivers are blanketed, and he generally is able to hit the quick option when needed.
The last test remaining? Oregon, the team that thwarted him from playing for a title a year ago.
Oregon proved they could get to Luck the last time they faced, or at least befuddle him on enough plays to force him to make the critical errors that were the difference. Luck cannot make the same mistakes this time around if he expects to outduel Darron Thomas this time around.
This year, the Stanford running foundation looks more solid with Stepfan Taylor leading the way (and Tyler Gaffney, Anthony Wilkerson and Jeremy Stewart all aiding the load) but Oregon's run defense hasn't missed a beat in conference play. The Cardinal will likely have to get the running game going in concert with the pass attack to pull this one out, which means Luck needs to be effective at spreading Oregon all over the field and methodically move the ball down the field on their defense. Execution was pretty good the last time the two faced, but this time the Cardinal and Luck need to be clicking all game long and stay one step ahead of Nick Aliotti.
With a first year coach leading the way, Luck has to be prepared to take Oregon's speed and move against them. Since the Cardinal defense likely doesn't have the strength to contain the Ducks for most of the game, it's up to the top college quarterback in the land to stay ahead of Stanford and take advantage of every opportunity they get.
There are a few things that might work.
1) Using Luck as a runner. Luck has not run as much as he has last season, but his ability to pick up yards might be critical. Luck has proven he can be plenty physical, so it might be tough to bring him down and help Stanford gain the critical yards they need. It also provides an added dimension to the Stanford power run attack that was so effective at gashing Oregon two years back.
2) The Wildcat. Remember that bizarro look the Cardinal threw out on 3rd down against the Trojans a few weeks back? Time to bring out the bizarro here and try and force Oregon to plug up the line of scrimmage.
3) Utilize the tight ends. If there's any weakness to the Oregon coverage scheme, it's that their pressure schemes will open up at least a couple of spots on the interior. Coby Fleener needs to be Luck's main target, with the practically unguardable Levine Toilolo mixed in.
4) Distribute the football. Although Luck doesn't have the deep option (like Doug Baldwin or Chris Owusu) that stretches the field, he's proven he can stretch it almost anywhere from 5 to 25 yards. Luck has proven he can hit almost every receiver on the field, and he might need to mix it up as much as possible to keep the Oregon defense off-balance all game long.
All of this will be negated if Luck can't nail his throws. Last year in Autzen, just one too many throws were off-target, or pressed into coverage. The Stanford QB needs to be more determinative and make his reads properly. The perfect game in the biggest game (or something very close to it) could very well be needed.
After this, there won't be any more chances for this quarterback. The spotlight is on Andrew Luck. Time to prove he's worth all the hype and all the adulation. Time to beat Oregon.