STANFORD, CA - NOVEMBER 12: Andrew Luck #12 of the Stanford Cardinal runs with the ball for a short gain against the Oregon Ducks at Stanford Stadium on November 12, 2011 in Stanford, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
(See Part I here)
Andrew Luck was starting to feel the heat early against the Oregon Ducks, and he was having trouble keeping the offense rolling the more the defense sent new looks. The next few plays would show how Oregon got the best of him and how Luck would need to adapt to the situation if he was to keep the Cardinal afloat.
1:00: 1st and 10, Stanford 48, 6:55 in the first
Stanford gets ready to put the screen into action, but the Ducks are ready and counter with the perfect defense (whether it's a guess or good recognition of the playcall is not something I have the answer to). Oregon puts four at the line but drops the outside defender (a linebacker) into coverage while blitzing the middle linebacker. More importantly, the defensive back shaded to cover the outside receiver is actually LB Boseko Lokombo, as the Ducks reveal another one of their unconventional 3-3-5 formations (with one linebacker on the outside, another linebacker patrolling the middle, and another linebacker actually playing cornerback.
Against the slow-developing screen play, it's a perfect matchup. With the running back having to pick up the blitzing middle linebacker, no one blocks out Lokombo from the blind side, and Luck gets blitzed and nearly commits a costly turnover. If Luck had noticed the linebacker on the wide receiver he might have audibled to that mismatch, but that didn't happen and disaster nearly unfolds.
Disaster is saved for the next passing play.
1:26: 3rd and 9, Stanford 49, 6:05 in the first
Stanford in shotgun formation with 1 RB, 2 WR left, TE, WR right. Oregon has another one of their wacky formations again, with five defenders at the line, all the cornerbacks playing close up on the WRs, and the safeties at the second level.
Oregon now drops three of the five defenders back into coverage and blitzes the left cornerback (to Luck's strongside), and again the CB is not a CB but a LB. It's Lokombo again! This time Stanford is more than capable of beating the blitz, but with so many defenders in coverage it flusters Luck out of his primary reads. He has to turn back toward the other side, and unfortunately Oregon is there to defend that expertly. Pick, and Oregon scores a few plays later to take the lead for good.
This is one of those players where you're left scratching your head at Luck. With only three Oregon defenders being blocked by six Stanford players, that means Luck is likely throwing to a receiver in double coverage no matter where he goes. This seems like the perfect situation to take off and run, and the gamefilm review confirms that. Luck decided to try and make a play.
Luck isn't alone on the blame. Fleener sat on that route and allowed any defender that was on him plenty of time to get him. In fact, Stuckey slipped originally in coverage and was on the ground for most of Luck's first reads. Yet the Oregon LB still managed to step in that throw rather easily regardless because Fleener didn't do a good job keeping active and forcing Stuckey to guess whether he was breaking on the catch. The Stanford tight end made the targeting window obvious.
You can tell Luck was having trouble with this play. His footwork was unusually stiff and betrayed pretty quickly where he was planning to go with the football (pointed toward the left side of the field early), and he kept on shifting in the pocket to try and find the best possible throw in that direction. He then had to change tune on the fly when nothing was working out on that side to try and find a secondary possibility, and things didn't work out so well.
Luck was way too impulsive with that throw in coming back to his secondary read. Instead of surveying his decisions, with the most preferable being to take off and try and scramble for the first, or at least hope his receivers can adjust out of their original spots and run with their QB, he released and hoped the best would happen. It didn't, and Stanford would spend the rest of the game playing catch up.
Thankfully, Luck is a pretty good quarterback, and he'd try and make up for this mistake in a hurry. But again you see how Oregon defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti can give even the best of them at the collegiate level loads of trouble.